Thursday, Jul 31, 2014
Hernando High

Curren replicates outstanding season


Published:   |   Updated: May 12, 2014 at 10:46 AM

A decade ago, under Central High girls tennis skipper Joe Nicolai’s watchful stare; Lady Bear freshman Jeanette McDonald began her illustrious career on the prep courts.

When the dust settled in 2007, McDonald rewrote the Hernando County record book in singles and doubles play.

It’s that reason many local tennis aficionados rank McDonald as the finest-ever prep player from Hernando County.

Don’t look now, but someone’s gaining on McDonald’s legendary status.

This past season, for the first time since McDonald graduated in 2007, a local netter was crowned Hernando Today’s Player of the Year in back-to-back season: Hernando sophomore Grace Marie Curren.

As a freshman in the sport’s two most demanding positions – No. 1 singles and No. 1 doubles – Curren calmly held serve.

The multi-sport student/athlete, who also plays volleyball and soccer, rolled out to a 13-3 singles campaign (81 percent) and a stellar 16-3 doubles slate (84 percent).

The Curren highlight reel included reaching the Class 2A, District 6 finals at No. 1 singles in Dade City, only to lose to talented Lady Pirate junior Madison Johnson, 7-6 (7-1), 6-1.

Earlier in the season, Curren had defeated Johnson, 7-5, 6-2.

But in the No. 1 doubles finals, Curren teamed with senior Shelby Marrero to trim Johnson and Sarah McCord, 6-4, 6-1. The first-place blue ribbon was Curren’s first-ever.

With the district title, Curren and Marrero advanced to the state finals in Seminole County.

Curren almost didn’t play at states. She had contracted a severe stomach virus. She couldn’t hold down any food in the 90-plus degree temperatures.

Despite not being anywhere close to 100 percent physically, Curren teamed with Marrero to solve Kellen McCarthy and Taylor Snipes of Tallahassee-Florida High, 4-6, 6-1, 10-8, to reach the 2A state semifinals.

Priyanka Shah and Maria Cespedes of Orlando-Lake Nona eliminated the Lady Leopard duo, 6-0, 6-2.

The next day, the Lake Nona tandem won the 2A state championship.

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With that achievement as a backdrop, the 16-year-old Curren elevated her game this season.

Again at No. 1 singles, Curren posted a 17-2 won-lost slate. Her 17 singles victories tied Springstead senior Robyn Cotney for the the county lead.

In her second district tournament at No. 1 singles, Curren flipped the script defeating Pasco’s Johnson at Crystal River, 6-4, 7-5.

Curren’s attempt at back-to-back district titles at No. 1 doubles, however, was halted by Pasco’s Johnson/Shelbi Timlake, 1-6, 6-4, 3-6.

After losing in regionals the year before, Curren added regional champion to her resume by trimming Fivay’s Esther Eaton, 6-1, 6-1, and Pasco’s Johnson’s for the third time in three matches, 6-4, 5-7, 6-2.

Riding a career-best 12-match winning streak, Curren was optimistic on her chances at states.

But in her second trip to the 2A state finals at Sanford’s Sylvan Park – and first in singles play – Curren was ousted by St. Augustine-Pedro Menendez senior Jordan Zander, 6-2, 6-3.

Despite the setback, Curren was the unanimous choice as a repeat Player of the Year selection.

“Grace just had a great season. At states, the other girl just wore her down,” explained Hernando’s first-year mentor, mathematics instructor Connie Foster. “States gave us a great opportunity to bond.

“Over the summer I expect a change in her game. She has a tremendous ability to hold her own.”

“In the simplest terms, Grace is an animal when she steps on the court,” insisted Nature Coast Technical’s third-year coach John Downey. “She makes you beat her. And you’ll have to bring your ‘A’ game to do it.”

“Just after she won the district championship I overheard her say that ‘I wanted this so bad; I’ve worked so hard.’ That tells you a lot about the kind of player she is,” explained Central’s seventh-year mentor Sonya Burns. “She’s mentally tough and she’s dedicated to the sport.”

“I’m really excited to be honored twice,” said Curren. “I’m just so happy. I think it shows that the coaches voted for my personality and how I conducted myself. Some other people deserved this, too. It’s really just a great honor.”

Curren was born in Brooksville, the only child to Valerie Curren, an HHS alumnus who teaches and coaches at nearby Parrott Middle School.

Curren explained her rise on the courts.

“This year, I didn’t play around; I tried to move on. I was much more focused,” said the 5-foot-9 Curren. “My team really kept me pumped and kept me going. Most of my improvement came from my mental approach. Mechanically, I worked harder on my foot work and shuffling.”

She detailed her two setbacks.

“(Lecanto’s Madison) Gamble is a great player,” noted Curren. “I wasn’t 100 percent in that match. For some reason, we played doubles before my singles match and I was tired. I’m not making excuses, Gamble’s a good player.

“At states, she (Zander) was the best player I faced this year,” detailed Curren. “She was phenomenal. She had powerful shots and I’ve never run so much in a match.”

Curren was 3 years old when she received her first racquet from her grandfather in Okeechobee, and is pointing toward the future.

“During the summer, I want to play some people that are state ranked. That will toughen me up for next season,” explained Curren.

“I have to give props to my teammates for keeping me in matches,” she added. “And Coach Foster for using our ball machine to help me move my feet and telling me what I was doing wrong.”

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Curren expects to team up with senior-to-be Jada Bergstrom again at doubles. The duo combined for a county-best 11-4 mark.

“Jada keeps my head straight and off the court we’re pretty close,” she said. “To play well in doubles you’ve got to have that chemistry. I know we’ll be coming back to states.”

In possibly expanding her leadership role as team captain, “I don’t really see myself as a captain. I think we’re all equal out here,” she replied. “Rather than going to one person for help, we’re all out here helping each other.”

Curren, whose favorite class is math and carries a 3.7 grade point average, plans to play volleyball, but is undecided about returning to the soccer pitch.

“I’m still debating about soccer,” she said. “I love the sport. But my body is so tired after the midway point of the season. I was going to a chiropractor three times a week just to get ready for tennis.

“Soccer’s cool because I meet a lot of new friends and I like the challenge of the sport,” she added.

Curren’s already prepping mentally for Year 3 on the tennis courts.

“I can’t get ahead of myself,” she said. “I have to take each match as it comes. States is where I really have to apply myself.

“I realize that every time I step on the court, it’s like I’m wearing a big target on my back,” analyzed Curren, who is 16-1 lifetime against county opponents. “I have to make sure I’m in it to win it; that all starts with my focus and concentration.”

By the numbers: Hernando’s Grace Curren in 2014

- Compiled by TONY CASTRO

NO. 1 SINGLES (17-2, 89 percent)

OPPONENT SCHOOL RESULT

Madison Johnson Pasco W 7-5, 6-2

Bryn Buckner Springstead W 6-1, 6-1

Vanessa Valencia Central W 8-1 (pro set)

Nikhita Flagg Weeki Wachee W 8-0 (pro set)

Madeline Pickersgill NCT W 6-2, 4-6, 10-5

Madison Gamble Lecanto L 4-6, 5-7

Vanessa Valencia Central W 8-0 (pro set)

Hana Mower Zephyrhills W 6-1, 6-1

Veronica Williams Crystal River W 7-6, 6-1

Bryn Buckner Springstead W 6-1, 6-2

Katherine Moore HCA W 8-0 (pro set)

Madeline Pickersgill NCT W 6-2, 6-4

Nikhita Flagg Weeki Wachee W 8-1 (pro set)

Veronica Williams Crystal River^ W 7-5, 6-1

Hana Mower Zephyrhills^ W 6-1, 6-1

Madison Johnson Pasco^ W 6-4, 7-5

Esther Eaton Fivay% W 6-1, 6-1

Madison Johnson Pasco& W 6-4, 5-7, 6-2

Jordan Zander Pedro Menendez$ L 2-6, 3-6

^ Denotes Class 2A, District 7 Tourney at Crystal River.

% Denotes Class 2A, Region IV Semifinal at Fivay.

& Denotes Class 2A, Region IV Final at Pasco.

$ Denotes 76th 2A State Finals at Sanford’s Sylvan State Park.

NO. 1 DOUBLES (11-5, 69 percent)

OPPONENTS SCHOOL RESULT

Johnson/Timlake Pasco L 7-9 (pro set)

Buckner/Guerrero Springstead L 3-6, 4-6

Valenica/Carrier Central W 8-7 (pro set)

Flagg/Kennedy Weeki Wachee W 8-0 (pro set)

Pickersgill/Sniffen NCT WBFF

Gamble/Tatam Lecanto L 1-6, 2-6

Mower/E. Cutkomp Zephyrhills W 6-0, 6-1

Williams/Hancock Crystal River W 6-3, 6-2

Buckner/Reji Springstead W 6-2, 6-2

Moore/McMillan HCA W 8-1 (pro set)

Pickersgill/Williams NCT W 8-2 (pro set)

Kosloski/Stookey Hudson^ W 6-2, 6-3

Carrier/Valencia Central^ W 6-2, 6-2

Johnson/Timlake Pasco^ L 1-6, 6-4, 3-6

Mariano/Day Fivay% W 6-0, 6-3

Johnson/Timlake Pasco& L 6-4, 2-6, 7-10

^ Denotes Class 2A, District 7 Tourney at Crystal River.

% Denotes Class 2A, Region IV Quarterfinal at Fivay.

& Denotes Class 2A, Region IV Final at Pasco.

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