Thursday, Apr 17, 2014
Sports

Saying Grace: Curren the choice as county’s best

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It has been almost a decade since Hernando County has been ‘graced’ with a freshman female tennis player who reached a district final in the sport’s two most demanding positions – No. 1 singles and No. 1 doubles.

In 2004, under skipper Joe Nicolai’s watchful eye, Central frosh Jeanette McDonald began her illustrious career on the Lady Bear courts.

With good reason, many tennis aficionados rate McDonald as the greatest female player from Hernando County.

The proof, as they say, is in the final product.

In her initial varsity season, McDonald captured the Class 3A, District 6 finals at No. 1 singles and doubles at the James Valentine Athletic Complex tennis courts at River Ridge.

Nine years later, Hernando frosh Grace Marie Curren matched McDonald’s tremendous performance by reaching the coveted district finals at No. 1 singles and No. 1 doubles.

Area coaches and the Hernando Today staff were so impressed with Curren’s run, not only was she named to her first All-County team, but also garnered five of six votes in the balloting for Player of the Year honors.

Curren fell in the 2A-6 No. 1 singles final at Pasco to the Lady Pirates’ Madison Johnson, 7-6 (7-1), 6-1.

But in the No. 1 doubles finals, Curren teamed with senior Shelby Marrero to trim Johnson and Sarah McCord, 6-4, 6-1.

The heavily-favored Lady Pirates edged HHS, 16-15, to repeat as 2A-6 champs. It marked the second straight season that the East Pasco County netters captured districts by a slim point.

Curren’s teammates were scuttled by the host Gainesville-Eastside Lady Rams in the ensuing 2A-Region III quarterfinals, 6-1.

But due to the 2A-6 No. 1 doubles championship, Curren/Marrero represented the Purple and Gold in the 75th annual FHSAA Finals at Sanford’s Sylvan Lake Park.

Curren almost did not 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 helped Marrero solve Kellen McCarthy/Taylor Snipes of Tallahassee-Florida High, 4-6, 6-1, 10-8, to reach the 2A state semifinals.

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

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

The postseason praise for Curren poured in.

“On the first day she stepped on the courts, you could tell she’s played and played well. As the season wore on, she continued to get better and kept proving herself on the court,” explained seventh-year Hernando mentor Pete Lahey. “What makes a POY? All the work they do on their own time – that’s Grace.

“Even during spring break, she was taking lessons.”

“This is such an honor,” said the 15-year-old Curren. “There were a lot of great players who gave me a challenge. Credit belongs to my teammates. They’re the ones that pushed me a lot. It was like, ‘You can do this!’”

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

Recalling her athletic roots, Curren said it began when she was 3 years old. She’d been given a racquet by her grandpa and enjoyed casually hitting the ball with him in a community park in Okeechobee.

She’s played on the United States Tennis Association circuit since she was 7.

“I remember when I first started playing thinking this is something I could do together with grandpa,” recalled Curren. “It’s also a sport where I don’t have to depend on anyone else for success – it’s all on me.”

Perhaps the key to Curren’s success is her diverse athletic background.

Since she was 5, she’s played soccer for the Brooksville United Soccer Association. She’s played “everything from forward, to defense to goalie.”

“I love how competitive soccer is,” noted Curren. “And it really helps my footwork.”

Curren has also participated in volleyball as a setter/spiker for five years. She played softball for 10 years and even played organized basketball.

“Sports keep me in shape,” explained Curren.” I don’t like being by myself; I’d rather be out with my friends doing something.”

At Parrott, Curren could have been voted ‘Most Athletic’ following her eighth-grade year.

Across three seasons, Curren played volleyball, tennis and track and field (she concentrated on throwing the shot put and discus) for three years and played two seasons of basketball.

She earned the equivalent of 11 letters during her sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade seasons.

After matriculating to the Bell Avenue campus of Hernando High, she continued to stay active playing junior varsity volleyball, varsity soccer and varsity tennis.

In her spare time she was a member of the Class Club which participates “in powderpuff football and organizes fundraisers for the school.”

On her fine frosh tennis season where she captured her first 11 singles matches in a row before finishing 13-3, “I can’t take full credit for what happened this year,” she said. “I wouldn’t have done anything without the support of the players and coaches behind me.”

Her county-best win streak at No. 1 concluded when he lost to Weeki Wachee junior Erin Moynihan, 6-0, 6-0.

According to many of the folks who watched that match, the play was a lot closer than the final score suggests.

“I didn’t beat myself up after I lost to Moynihan,” recalled Curren on her lone county defeat. “She moved me around. She read me well. It’s hard to play someone, who plays like me. I wasn’t upset. Most of the games went deuce, so it was a lot closer than people might think.”

On dropping her first attempt at a district championship, “I remember it was so hot and I got dehydrated; so that’s on me,” recalled Curren. “The tournament was so close. Everybody on our team was cheering me on. I was afraid to let them down.

“I had beaten her before,” added Curren. “But this time I made way too many unforced errors. I had just played two doubles matches and I was exhausted. Shots that I normally make all the time, I kept missing; so I got more and more frustrated.”

In dropping her two regional matches to state-ranked Gainesville-Eastside, “They were the real deal,” emphasized Curren. “I’d hit a low shot and my opponents would scoop it up and return it even lower – they were very good.”

On playing at states not close to 100 percent, “I didn’t feel good that morning,” said Curren. “I remember going back to the (hotel) room and throwing up. I just couldn’t hold anything down.

“Just before we took the courts, Coach Lahey told me, “You can quit if you want.’ But I didn’t think it was fair to fight all this way to get here and then default. It wasn’t fair to me, or Shelby. I chose to fight.

“I’m not going to pout over what happened. The decision was mine to play,” said Curren. “I told myself everything happens for a reason. Beating that first team was really exciting. I was so glad we got one.

“In the semis, the Lake Nona team was as good as Eastside, probably a little better, since they won the state championship,” declared Curren.

On her relationship with Marrero following a stout 15-3 doubles campaign, Curren said, “I’ve played with a lot of other partners, but there wasn’t the connection I had with Shelby. We talked about tennis and other stuff on and off the court. We became close; we blended well. She was really cool to play with. We had a lot of fun together; I just wish we could play together again.”

According to Curren her greatest improvement came “on my serving, especially on my first serve and playing with more accuracy.”

On what she’ll focus on before playing next spring, “I need to continue to work on everything in my game,” insisted Curren. “Especially on my footwork and me turning my body.”

Curren enters next season ranked 20th academically out of the 2016 Class of 320 classmates, behind a wonderful 3.8 grade point average.

On defending her all-around athletic tag, “I’ll admit it, I’m a well-rounded athlete. I love my sports – it’s who I am. My doctor has warned me that continued wear and tear could affect my knees, but sports are who I am.”

Setting her sights on next season, “There’s always room for improvement,” cautioned Curren to her future opponents. “My goal is to win the district championship in singles.”

By the Numbers: Hernando’s Grace Curren in 2013

- Compiled by TONY CASTRO

SINGLES (13-3)

OPPONENT SCHOOL RESULT

Madison Johnson Pasco W 7-5, 6-2

Katherine Moore HCA W 8-0 (pro set)

Bryn Buckner Springstead W 6-4, 6-1

Katherine Moore HCA W 8-0 (pro set)

Nikki Moynihan Crystal River W 6-2, 6-1

Brianne Janak Weeki Wachee W 8-3 (pro set)

Christine Sniffen NCT W 6-0, 6-4

Ashleigh Day Fivay W 6-1, 6-1

Bryn Buckner Springstead W 6-4, 6-0

Allison Kosloski Wesley Chapel W 6-1, 6-0

Christine Sniffen NCT W 6-4, 6-1

Erin Moynihan Weeki Wachee L 0-6, 0-6

Dominique Cirnigliaro Hudson^ W 6-0, 6-0

Ashleigh Day Fivay^ W 6-0, 6-2

Madison Johnson Pasco^ L 6-7 (1-7), 1-6

Emily Louie-Meadors Eastside% L 0-6, 0-6

^ Denotes Class 2A, District 6 Tourney @ Dade City-Pasco.

% Denotes Class 2A, Region III Quarterfinal @ Gainesville-Eastside.

DOUBLES (15-3)

OPPONENTS SCHOOL RESULT

Johnson/McCord Pasco W 8-4 (pro set)

Moore/Jin HCA W 8-0 (pro set)

Buckner/Guerrero Springstead W 8-3 (pro set)

Moore/Jin HCA W 8-0 (pro set)

Moynihan/Williams Crystal River W 8-0 (pro set)

Janak/Ziel Weeki Wachee W 8-0 (pro set)

C. Sniffen/Viola NCT W 8-3 (pro set)

Day/Eaton Fivay W 8-2 (pro set)

Buckner/Singh Springstead W 8-4 (pro set)

Kosloski/Stookey Wesley Chapel W 8-2 (pro set)

C. Sniffen/Viola NCT W 8-2(pro set)

Moynihan/Janak Weeki Wachee L 8-9 (9-11 pro set)

Cirnigliaro/Powers Hudson^ W 6-0, 6-0

C. Sniffen/Viola NCT^ W 6-2, 6-3

Johnson/McCord Pasco^ W 6-4, 6-1

Louie-Meadors/Sourakov Eastside% L 0-6, 0-6

McCarthy/Snipes Tall.-Florida High$ W 4-6, 6-1, 10-8

Shah/Cespedes Orlando-Lake Nona$ L 0-6, 2-6

^ Denotes Class 2A, District 6 Tourney @ Dade City-Pasco.

% Denotes Class 2A, Region III Quarterfinal @ Gainesville-Eastside.

$ Denotes Class 2A FHSAA Finals @ Sanford-Sylvan Lake Park.

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