A year ago, Springstead’s tennis program reached the regional playoffs for the first time in three-plus decades.
Its reward for such a terrific season: A 75-minute machine-gunning by loaded Gainesville at the Jonesville Tennis Center, 7-0.
On Tuesday, the Eagles host the Class 3A, District 5 runners-up to Gainesville – Ocala-Forest – at 3 p.m. at Delta Woods Park in a 3A-Region III semifinal.
Whoever wins that match can expect a trip back to the (where else?) Jonesville Center on Thursday against Gainesville.
The Hurricanes, who finished third at states last spring, return four starters and host Mitchell on Tuesday.
This year’s Hernando County champion, Nature Coast, journeys to the Jonesville Tennis Center on Tuesday in a rematch from last year’s 2A-III semifinals against host Gainesville-Eastside at 3:30 p.m.
Like Springstead in 2012, the Sharks were tomato-canned by the Rams, 7-0.
The Jonesville Center victor will face the survivor of Belleview/Pasco in Thursday’s regional final.
Despite the Rams losing three starters from last year’s throttling over the Sharks, head coach David Porter’s third team comes in 8-6 overall.
Eastside’s record is deceiving. Entering regionals, they’ve played some of the best teams in the state.
In this week’s 2A-5 Tourney, the Rams reached a rare plateau sweeping all five singles titles and both doubles – returning home with 21 points. Belleview was a distant second with 10 points.
Eastside is armed and dangerous with young talent.
The Rams’ expected singles No. 1 -5 starting lineup features: frosh Hyunsoo Joo (8-7), freshman Samuel Cockey (9-6), sophomore Camille Kima (7-6), junior Maxwell Curtis (7-1) and senior Tabong Kima (12-3).
In doubles, look for Joo/Camille Kima (9-4) at No. 1 and Cockey/Derek Li (2-3) at No. 2.
“Our team records aren’t going to look good,” bemoaned Coach Porter. “But that’s because we purposely sought winning competition. No offense to Nature Coast, but we’ve travelled around looking for the best competition we can find. This group wants to win regionals and return to states.”
On whether the Rams are poised for a state-title run, “We’re not where we want to be yet,” explained Coach Porter. “It’s a very young and talented team. Obviously, we want to continue and play our best. But we’re realistically two years away from contending for a state championship.”
Meanwhile, the Sharks (12-4) are making their fifth straight regional playoff appearance.
Despite five finalists in the 2A-6 Tourney at Anclote, head coach Tom Brown’s crew returned home with one first-place blue ribbon: sophomore Jerry Bianculli (17-1) at No. 5 singles.
Nature Coast’s other No. 1-4 singles starters include three sophomores, Jesse Dewitt (10-7), Connor Schwefringhaus (9-6) and Alec Lund (12-6), and freshman Dakota Willey (11-6).
In doubles, look for Dewitt/Schwefringhaus (8-6) to anchor No. 1 while Willey/Nick Pais (2-0) hold down No. 2.
According to Coach Brown, the most encouraging sign is the Sharks have yet to exhibit their best tennis.
“We’re definitely capable of playing better,” said the eighth-year Nature Coast mentor. “Most of that is due to our overall lack of experience.”
On Tuesday’s matchup, “I realize what we’re walking into,” remarked Coach Brown. “But I’m not throwing in the towel. If we play our style instead of playing baseline tennis, we could change the court dynamic.”
On comparing Eastside to two of the Sharks’ toughest opponents, “Eastside is a little better than Tampa-Jesuit, but a step below Wiregrass,” said Brown. “If we won on Tuesday it would similar to the Miracle on Ice in 1980.”
On what’s standing in the Sharks’ upset path, “In an individual sport like tennis even if we get one guy to step up his game against Eastside, we still need three more guys to do the same,” lamented Brown. “We’re going up there and try to do the best we can. We don’t have a great chance, but we’re not going in there intimidated.”
Falcone’s troops arrive in Spring Hill behind a glossy 12-1 regular-season record. Their lone loss: a 5-2 setback to Gainesville.
The Wildcats arrive in Hernando County featuring a solid lineup in No. 1 -5 in singles featuring:
juniors Phillip Libby (10-3) and Nick Wigelsworth (7-6), sophomore Palmer Lovell (10-3), and juniors Mark Debolt (14-1) and Grant Lovell (10-1).
In doubles, look for Libby/Grant Lovell (9-4) at No. 1 and Wigelsworth/Tanner Weaver (12-2) at No. 2.
Weaver was team’s No. 2 singles player, but was sidelined with a severe bout of tennis elbow. Being the team’s only senior, Coach Falcone allowed him to complete the season playing only doubles.
“Coming into regionals we’ve accomplished every preseason goal,” explained Coach Falcone, the former Wildcat baseball mentor. “We wanted to win the county, the conference and finish second in districts (to Gainesville), so we’ve accomplished all those.”
On the scouting report on Springstead, “We don’t know anything about them except that they won their first district championship this week – so we’re in the same boat,” admitted Falcone, who also guided that 1998 Forest team to the district crown.
“We’re going into regionals blind, but we’ll give it our best shot,” he said. “I thought we were pretty good until Weaver got hurt toward the end of the season. I think playing on the road will help us focus better.”
The host Eagles will roll out the identical lineup they’ve utilized all season from No. 1-5 singles: sophomore Patrick Deslaurier (13-3), senior Carl Zee (13-4), junior Hank Deslaurier (15-2), sophomore Robert Hoover (13-4) and senior Marcel Leaman (10-6).
In the 3A-6 event, Springstead returned home with two district champs behind Zee and Hank Deslaurier.
In doubles, expect Springstead to play Patrick Deslaurier/Zee (13-2) at No. 1 and Hank Deslaurier/Hoover (13-3) at No. 2. Both Eagles doubles duos captured district titles at River Ridge.
Springstead skipper Joe Nicolai, who guided Central’s’ Lady Bears for nine years, last captured a regional match on April 23, 2004 against visiting Winter Park-Lake Howell, 4-1.
On Tuesday’s matchup, “I really don’t know much about Forest,” said Nicolai. “But they probably don’t know much about us either.”
On the focus, “We want to go out and play the best tennis we can,” said Nicolai. “We know what Gainesville is like; we just don’t have much of an idea about Forest.
“All I’m asking the guys to do is play their game and play hard,” said Nicolai. “If they do that, I can live with the results.”
At a Glance
What – Class 3A, Region III Boys Tennis Semifinal
Who – 3A-5 runner-up Ocala-Forest Wildcats (12-1) vs. 3A-6 champion Springstead Eagles (13-2)
Where – Delta Woods Park
When – Tuesday at 3 p.m.
At Stake – Winner advances to Thursday’s 3A-III final against the survivor of Mitchell at Gainesville.
Tale Of The Tape: Ocala-Forest at Springstead
No. 1 – OF: Phillip Libby, 11th, 10-3 vs. SPG: Patrick Deslaurier, 10th, 13-3.
No. 2 – OF: Nick Wigelsworth, 11th, 7-6 vs. SPG: Carl Zee, 12th, 13-4..
No. 3 – OF: Palmer Lovell, 10th, 10-3 vs. SPG: Hank Deslaurier, 11th, 15-2.
No. 4 – OF: Mark Debolt, 11th, 14-1 vs. SPG: Robert Hoover, 10th, 13-4.
No. 5 – OF: Grant Lovell, 11th, 10-1 vs. SPG: Marcel Leaman, 12th, 10-6.
No. 1 – OF: Libby/G. Lovell, 9-4 vs. SPG: P. Deslaurier/Zee, 13-2.
No. 2 – OF: Wigelsworth/Tanner Weaver, 12-2 vs. SPG: H. Deslaurier/Hoover, 13-3.
What – Class 2A, Region III Boys Tennis Semifinal
Who – 2A-5 runner-up Nature Coast Sharks (12-4) vs. 2A-5 champion Gainesville-Eastside Rams (8-6).
Where – Jonesville Tennis Center, NW 143rd St. and NW 32nd Ave., Gainesville.
When – Tuesday at 3:30 p.m.
At Stake – Winner advances to Thursday’s 2A-III final against the survivor of Belleview at Pasco
Tale Of The Tape: NCT at Eastside
No. 1 – NCT: Jesse Dewitt, 10th, 10-7 vs. EAST: Hyunsoo Joo, 9th, 8-7.
No. 2 – NCT: Connor Schwefringhaus, 10th, 9-6 vs. EAST: Samuel Cockey, 9th, 9-6.
No. 3 – NCT: Alec Lund, 10th, 12-6 vs. EAST: Camille Kima, 10th, 7-6.
No. 4 – NCT: Dakota Willey, 9th, 11-6 vs. EAST: Maxwell Curtis, 11th, 7-1.
No. 5 – NCT: Jerry Bianculli, 10th, 17-1 vs. EAST: Tabong Kima, 12th, 12-3.
No. 1 – NCT: Dewitt/Schwefringhaus, 8-6 vs. EAST: Joo/C. Kima, 9-4.
No. 2 – NCT: Willey/Nick Pais, 2-0 vs. EAST: Cockey/Derek Li, 2-3.