The county’s final four tennis players – the No. 1 doubles teams representing Springstead’s boys and Hernando’s girls – will begin their state quests for gold medals in Seminole County this week.
The Class 3A, District 6 champions – Eagle senior Carl Zee and sophomore Patrick Deslaurier – will be making a historic journey beginning Monday after 11 a.m.
The Springstead duo advanced to the 91st annual boys FHSAA Finals at Altamonte Springs’ Sanlando Park courtesy of first-place blue ribbon at the Jim Valentine Sports Complex Tennis Courts on April 3 at River Ridge.
The Eagle duo will be the school’s first-ever representation on this elite stage
Meanwhile, the Class 2A, District 6 champions from Hernando – Lady Leopard senior Shelby Marrero and freshman Grace Curren – will be participating in the 75th annual girls FHSAA Finals beginning Wednesday after 11 a.m. at Sylvan Lake Park in Sanford.
No Hernando County netter has ever been crowned as an individual state champion. To garner a state crown any individual player or doubles team would have to win a minimum of three matches.
The closest any Hernando County player has come to reaching the top of the tennis podium was almost a decade ago.
In 2004 during the 2A finals at Tampa’s Hillsborough Community College courts, Leopard senior Keegan Ledford finished as state runner-up at No. 5 singles.
Nicolai guided Central’s girls team to a county record back-to-back-to-back state appearances from 2004-06.
“Our guys are excited. Based on their last win (in Tuesday’s thrilling three-set marathon over Ocala-Forest), they think they can win it all,” said Nicolai.
On the keys to success, “It really all comes down to the seeds,” pointed out Nicolai. “I’ve brought great players to states, but when you draw No. 1 or No. 2 out of the gate – that’s tough. I’m hoping these guys get a good draw. Once they step on the courts, they won’t give up.”
On whether Deslaurier/Zee (14-2 overall) can reach the state finals, “Realistically, there are a lot of variables involved,” said Nicolai. “If we get past the first round, I’ll be happy. I’ll be amazed if we get past the second round.
“These two guys are very capable of winning,” explained Nicolai. “Now, the quality of players at states is unreal. It’ll be a great learning experience for someone like Patrick (Deslaurier) who we hope can come back here – that’s a goal for him.
“These two work well together. They’re going to Altamonte Springs to rule the world.”
“After districts it took a few days to get the thought in our heads that we were going to states,” shared the 16-year-old Deslaurier, a 2012 All-County selection. “Just winning a match (at states) is the real deal. We’re going to try our best.”
“Tuesday’s win was not easy,” recalled Deslaurier. “I really think that match helped us prepare for states. We played phenomenally, especially in the third set when we really needed it. We showed that if we could do it in that spot, we can do it again at states.
“I definitely want to win states,” noted Deslaurier. “But I’d like to win it just as much for Carl.”
“Going to states as a senior is what makes this so special,” declared the 18-year-old Zee. “Going to states is one of my biggest accomplishments. Even if we can’t win it all, I believe we can make a deep run.”
On the opening match, “I don’t care if we draw the defending state champions. My goal is to play the best I can,” emphasized Zee.
On describing the duo’s synchronicity, “We really are like peanut butter and jelly. We go well together. We read each other extremely well,” said Zee. “I think we have too many hand signals, but we use them all.”
On his team’s chances, “We’ve already flown further and higher than anyone else from Springstead,” noted Zee. “I’ve accomplished things this year (two district titles) that I thought I’d never do. I don’t want this ride to end.”
Curren/Marrero (13-2 overall) had opened the season with 10 straights wins before dropping a hard-to-swallow pro set to Weeki Wachee’s Erin Moynihan/Brianne Janak on March 21 at the Brooksville City Courts, 9-8 (11-9).
HHS bounced back with a 3-0 run at Pasco to earn the 2A-6 title.
The Purple and Gold netters haven’t been represented at states since senior Alison Steiner played at No. 1 singles in 2010. She finished 1-1.
In head coach Pete Lahey’s first season in 2007, HHS’ No. 1 doubles team of Simone Berger/Steiner went 1-1. Berger, a foreign exchange tennis phenom from Germany, also went 1-1 at No. 1 singles.
On crystal-balling 2A states, “I never know what to expect,” shrugged Coach Lahey. “The draw plays so much of a factor. I do know the girls have got to play relaxed. I’d like them to just go out there, talk and have some fun.”
On whether Eastside’s win tarnished his team’s momentum from districts, “Eastside blanked us,” recalled Lahey. “They were very good. It wasn’t like it was over in a half hour; the girls went to deuce a lot.”
On what Lahey likes the most about the Lady Leopard duo, “They both hit the ball hard,” he said. “They try to help each other out.”
Marrero has one wish going into states, saying, “I wish I could come back and play with Grace next year.
“Even though I was a senior, I was happy playing at No. 2 singles,” described the 18-year-old Marrero. “When the season started, I didn’t know Grace. I found out quickly that she works ten times harder than anyone else on our team.
“Last year I was the one always giving out advice on how to play this girl or that girl and how to handle certain situations,” recalled Marrero. “Grace is a freshman who came in giving me advice. I loved it. She knows what she’s talking about.”
On Lady Leopards’ success, “I trust Grace on a scale of 1-10 with a 10,” admitted Marrero, a rare four-year Lady Leopard starter. “On communication I’d rate it an eight. Sometimes we don’t even talk; we know what the other person is going to do.”
In her final prep match, “I’m so glad that I had a partner like her,” stressed Marrero. “Win or lose, we enjoy playing together on the courts – that’s what really matters. I’m going into states about enjoying the moment; we’ve really had a great run together.
“I don’t want to dwell on what may happen (at states), but I can reassure you that even if we don’t win it all, we’ll give it our absolute best,” said Marrero. “States is as good as it gets. We’re excited to be going. This is intense, but I’m happy to be playing.”
At a Glance
What – Class 3A Boys Tennis FHSAA Finals
Who – Springstead’s No. 1 doubles team of senior Carl Zee and sophomore Patrick Deslaurier (14-2 overall)
Where – Altamonte Springs’ Sanlando Park, 401 W. Highland St., Altamonte Springs
When – Monday through Wednesday, doubles competition begins after 11 a.m.
At Stake – State championship
What – Class 2A Girls Tennis FHSAA Finals
Who – Hernando High’s No. 1 doubles team of freshman Grace Curren and senior Shelby Marrero (13-2 overall)
Where – Sylvan Lake Park, 845 Lake Markham Road, Sanford
When – Wednesday through Friday, doubles competition begins after 11 a.m.
At Stake – State championship