With Brooksville's Hernando Christian Academy no longer an independent in girls tennis, all six Hernando County female programs will be participating for the first-time ever in the FHSAA state series beginning March 31.
After Springstead spent over three decades attempting to notch its first-ever district title last spring, the Lady Eagles will have to seek a repeat in new digs.
With district realignment, the freshly-minted 10-team Class 3A, District 5 features schools from four different counties: Citrus, Lake, Marion and Hernando - Citrus, Lecanto, Lake Minneola, Leesburg, Groveland-South Lake, Ocala-Lake Weir, Ocala-Forest, Ocala-Vanguard, Ocala-West Port and Springstead.
As with the boys programs, district scheduling has been the biggest obstacle.
"We're the southern-most located school in this district," noted second-year SHS mentor Rick Scholl, who guided the Spring Hill netters to an outstanding 13-4 campaign. "Thank goodness we have matches with some of the teams, the other half had travel concerns.
"Plus we tried to pick-up matches against some good local teams like Land O' Lakes and Mitchell, but they were full," noted Scholl.
SHS lost to Lecanto during the regular season and were ousted in the 3A-Region III semifinals at Delta Woods Park in the postseason.
Though the Lady Panthers will host this year's district meet, they're not the favorites. Ocala-Forest sent LHS packing in last year's regional finals.
"We're hoping for a repeat of our success, but it won't be easy," insisted Coach Scholl. "Lecanto didn't lose much, so they'll be strong. But Forest is the team to beat."
SHS' optimism is based on its 12-person roster.
The Mariner Boulevard netters return all five starters from last year's 3A-6 championship squad including: senior captain Robyn Cotney, and juniors Bryn Buckner, Scarlett Semack, Ashley Clark and Sara Guerrero.
Both Cotney and Clark are returning 2013 All-County selections.
Cotney paced the local circuit behind a perfect 18-0 mark at No. 4 singles. Semack was next at 15-4 while Clark also finished unbeaten at No. 5 singles at 11-0.
Additionally, Semack, Cotney and Clark all returned home with first-place blue ribbons from singles play in the 3A-6 Tournament in New Port Richey.
Semack/Cotney teamed up for the 3A-6 No. 2 doubles crown, as well.
In the season-ending 5-2 regional loss to Lecanto, both Cotney and Clark gained invaluable experience in a pressure-packed environment behind straight-set wins over the Lady Panthers.
Senior Sarina Singh returns to the squad and will essentially be the No. 6 singles player.
SHS newcomers include: seniors Chrysa Holmstrand (3-12 as a freshman/has not played the past two seasons) and Kelley Swan, junior Grace Ni, sophomore Hannah Moynihan, and freshmen Sarah Vo and Anjena Reji.
With Clark under the weather to open the season, look for Reji or Moynihan to battle for the No. 6 singles slot.
"What I like most about this group is we have our whole starting lineup from districts back and three of those girls won district titles," emphasized a proud Scholl. "But what we did last year was last year; we're not going to rest on our laurels."
As far as the seasonal outlook, he said, "We'd like to have a similar record as last year, and we're going to use our county matches for experience in building up for districts. We'd like to finish first or second at Lecanto."
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After a seven-year run as Hernando's mentor, Pete Lahey stepped down to spend time with his family.
Lahey compiled a fine 58-29 lifetime mark at the Bell Avenue campus, and was named by his peers as 2013 Hernando Today Coach of the Year.
Lahey guided the Purple and Gold to the brink of a huge upset, losing to host Pasco in the 2A-6 Tourney by one point, 16-15.
HHS won two blue ribbons in the Pasco County meet as Shelby Marrero won at No. 2 singles as did junior Lida Marie Steinkamp at No. 3 singles.
At No. 1 singles, freshman Grace Curren fell in the 2A-6 finals to Pasco's Mady Johnson, 7-6 (7-1), 6-1.
Despite the singles loss, Curren didn't lose her cool; she teamed up with Marrero at No. 1 doubles for her first-ever district title and an automatic bid to states.
At states, Curren/Marrero (15-3 overall) went 1-1.
Marrero finished her fourth season on the courts at 14-2 in singles just ahead of Curren's 13-3 slate.
For their efforts in singles and doubles, Curren and Marrero were both named to the All-County team in 2013. Curren was additionally feted as Hernando Today Player of the Year.
Though Marrero graduated, HHS' new mentor, Connie Foster, is expected to inherit the Purple and Gold's six returning lettermen featuring: seniors Steinkamp and Shelby Smith, junior Jada Bergstrom (lost after three matches due to a leg injury last year), and sophomores Curren, Caitlynn Nixon and Nikki Shamblin.
HHS will attempt to reach regionals via the eight-team 2A-7 Tournament at Crystal River, featuring: Central, Hernando, Nature Coast, Crystal River, Pasco, Weeki Wachee, Wesley Chapel and Zephyrhills.
Central lost three crucial seniors from last season's third-place team in the eight-team 3A-6 Tourney: Brittany Blackburn, Jordan Stenholm and Danielle Daly.
Blackburn, a district champion in 2012, fell just short of repeating losing in the 3A-6 No. 3 singles final.
Blackburn (14-3 in singles) was named to for the second straight year to the All- County team.
Stenholm teamed with Blackburn to forge an outstanding 15-2 No. 2 doubles slate - they, too, were honored as All-County picks.
Seventh-year CHS skipper Sonya Burns does return two lettermen, both starters, in junior Nicole Carrier (9-7 in 2013) and sophomore Vanessa Valencia (15-2).
CHS' 2014 roster features nine fresh faces including: senior Kathryn Yuratick, juniors Casey Baril and Jordyn Brunetti, sophomores Sarah Ricchi, Kathryn Rodriguez, Erin Tracey and Alexandra Viera, along with freshmen Hailey Hoffenkamp and Jenelle Prefontaine.
"It's a rebuilding year for us," detailed Burns, who enters 44-39 lifetime. "I lost three of my top five players to graduation. Nicole will move up to the No. 1 position and Vanessa, who was a great addition to the team last year, will fill my No. 2 position.
"Overall, I have a young team and luckily we won't be losing any of my top five to graduation this year," she added. "The girls have been working hard and I look forward to a successful season."
Nature Coast slipped from the front page last spring finishing third in the 2A-6 Meet at Pasco High.
Before last season, NCT had reached the coveted regional playoffs for seven straight years.
Coach John Downey's second Lady Shark team finished 8-6 and lost one starter - Christine Sniffen - to graduation while another starter, junior Dorothy Cash, opted not to return to the courts.
The Lady Sharks do return five lettermen: senior Katie Viola, juniors Jennifer Sniffen and Keonti Williams, and sophomores Lexi Moralles and Madeline Pickersgill.
While Cash finished 11-5 last spring, Viola actually enjoyed a better record in singles play at 11-4. Pickersgill reached double figures at 10-4.
In doubles play, a long time staple at the California Street program, the Lady Sharks dipped to 17-13 overall.
Christine Sniffen and Viola was the most successful combination at No. 1 doubles at 6-6.
Williams played in three doubles matches, but never played in a singles match last year.
Coach Downey has four newcomers on his current roster featuring: junior Nichole Yager along with sophomores Kara Champion, Stephanie Hanley and Tia Stratton.
Weeki Wachee's third team finished 3-15 under Elisa Awtrey.
Awtrey's crew finished tied for third place in the rugged 1A-8 Tourney at Hillsborough Community College.
Last season, junior Erin Moynihan paced the Lady Hornets in singles action at 8-2 and doubles play at 7-3.
Awtrey did not return to WWHS this past fall and former softball mentor and girls golf coach Linda Rogers has taken over the program.
Across three seasons at the helm, Awtrey finished a combined 6-38.
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Hernando Christian Academy has shed its previous independent status.
With that move, the Lady Lions will participate in the FHSAA state series beginning March 31 in the rugged 11-team, 2A-7 Tournament at Hillsborough Community College.
Last season, Pastor Jeff Moore's Lady Lions finished 1-11.
HCA is 1-15 over the past two seasons under Coach Moore.
HCA returns five lettermen from last season including: junior Vivian Dong and four freshmen, Katherine Moore, Kim Birdsell, Kielan McMillan and Rachel Kim.
Team newcomers include: seventh-grader Chase Tannoia, frosh Ciera Goethals, sophomore Clara Bellotto and junior Meghan Pilcher.
Last season, Birdsell paced the Lady Lions in singles victories (three) while Kim/Dong combined for the program's lone doubles victory.
"Katherine played in USTA events all summer long and (Rachel) Kim played a lot in Korea," pointed out Coach Moore. "I think those two will surprise some people. Hopefully, the rest can hold their own. This team is really young and most of them are playing up - which is real tough."