Seventy-five percent, or nine of the county's 12 tennis programs, were eliminated during the first leg of the state tennis series this past week in districts.
Starting Tuesday, the remaining teams - the Class 2A, District 7 runner-up Lady Leopards of Hernando High, and on the boys side 2A-7 champ Nature Coast Technical and 3A-5 titlist Springstead - tackle three regional semifinal opponents.
Only with a win Tuesday and Thursday (in the respective regional finals), can any of those three squads advance to states the following week as a team.
The only back-to-back district champion was Springstead.
The Eagles earned the school's first ever district repeat in the talent-rich, 10-team 3A-5 Tournament at Lecanto.
After setting a school record by being represented in all five singles and both doubles finals - resulting in three district champions - the Mariner Boulevard netters (12-1) will host 3A-6 runner-up Orlando-Edgewater (14-3) at 3 p.m. Tuesday at Delta Woods Park.
With a win, SHS will face the survivor of Ocala-Forest at Daytona Beach-Mainland next Thursday. Should the Mainland Buccaneers win, SHS would travel to Volusia County.
If the Wildcats prevail, the Eagles will host a regional rematch from last year. Forest eliminated SHS in a tense regional semifinal last spring via a marathon 4-3 win.
In Season 33 of tennis, SHS has never claimed a regional win.
"After three days in that hot sun at Lecanto, I gave our guys the day off Friday," explained veteran Springstead skipper Joe Nicolai. "They needed it, especially Patrick (Deslaurier). When you get cramps as bad as he got them (Thursday), it's like someone is punching your legs - you're extremely sore."
The Eagles' approach is simplistic in nature.
"What we need Tuesday is four points," said Nicolai, who arrives 39-7 at SHS and 146-34 across 12 seasons (.811 percent). "I understand Edgewater has a solid No. 1 and No. 2 singles, plus a great No. 1 doubles team. That plays right into our hands. We have some strength some people don't have."
Edgewater is paced by 3A-6 district champions: senior Peter Tong at No. 1 singles, senior Hongchen Li at No. 2 and Tong/Li at No. 1 doubles.
SHS counters with 3A-5 district champions in senior Hank Deslaurier (13-2) at No. 2 singles and frosh Alex Hoover (16-0) at No. 4, and its No.2 doubles duo of those two (15-0).
In a loaded 3A-5 field, Patrick Deslaurier (12-5) finished runner-up at No. 1 singles, as did junior Robbie Hoover (11-5) at No. 3 singles and freshman Sam DeAngelis (12-4) at No. 5.
Patrick Deslaurier and Robbie Hoover (7-7) also finished as district runners-up at No. 1 singles.
Don't expect a pep talk from Nicolai to guide his troops through Tuesday's match.
"At this point in the season, the guys are as ready to play as they will ever be," noted Nicolai. "Our guys are self-motivated; they want to create history. I just try to promote it. If I see something in a match, I'll bring it up during a break."
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Gulf arrives as 2A-8 runner-up and as a decided underdog facing five-time district champion NCT (14-2).
The two teams did not face each other this season, but the Sharks shredded the Buccaneers in New Port Richey on Mar. 14, 2013, 7-0.
All five of the Shark starters from that match are back, compared to two of the Bucs' starters.
Gulf is paced by returning starters, juniors Alex Walker at No. 1 singles and Aakash Panjabi at No. 2 singles. Walker captured a 2A-8 singles title.
NCT counters with five singles players who all reached the 2A-7 final, along with the doubles teams.
NCT's four district champions include: juniors Jesse DeWitt (14-3) at No. 1 singles, Conner Schwefringhaus (12-3) at No. 2 singles, sophomore Alec Lund (11-3) at No. 4 singles and freshman Charles Buckner (9-2) at No. 5.
Additionally, DeWitt/ Schwefringhaus (10-1) captured the prestigious No. 1 doubles.
First-year GHS mentor Tim Stevens clearly understands what the Bucs are walking into.
"So far this season we've either whipped whoever we've played or gotten whipped," said the former River Ridge head football mentor. "We've got a bunch of good IB (International Baccalaureate) kids, who aren't real athletic. The dinner conversation is a little different."
On the prospects of facing NCT, "Playing Nature Coast will be a great experience, especially for the kids coming back," detailed Stevens. "We want to build these babies. The only way to do that is to line up and play great teams like Nature Coast.
"The goal on Tuesday is to be competitive."
Meanwhile, the Sharks are making their sixth straight regional playoff appearance.
With a win Tuesday, NCT would face the survivor of Pasco at Fivay. Should the Pirates win, NCT would host the Dade City crew with a state berth on the line Thursday.
"From the looks of it, we're going to see a new team (in Gulf)," said Brown, who arrives 109-34 (.762) lifetime. "They've got a couple kids that we faced last year so the challenge is to figure out how someone plays."
Brown believes his strength of schedule featuring matches against Mitchell, Springstead and Tampa-Jesuit will pay off in regionals.
"Playing tough matches make you mentally tough," insisted Brown. "The great thing about playing good people is you have to challenge yourself to get better."
One concern, however, is the team's overall health.
"Health-wise, we're probably at 80 percent," noted Brown. "We're going through some bumps and bruises. I hope the team we had in districts is ready to go on Tuesday."
In facing Gulf, "It's not like we're going to lower our expectations in playing a team we beat last year, 7-0," said Brown. "Trust me; we're not underestimating Gulf or anybody else at this stage of the game. In a year's time, kids can make gains."
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The 2A-7 district runner-up Hernando travels to 2A-8 champion Fivay for a 9 a.m. match Tuesday.
Similar to the NCT/Gulf boys scenario, the two teams did not face each other this year, but HHS shellacked the Lady Falcons last spring, 7-0.
The Lady Falcons (9-2) are enjoying their best-ever season behind five district champions: seniors Amber Mariano (10-3) at No. 2 singles and Alyssa Dierking (10-0) at No. 5 singles, and juniors Ashleigh Day (10-3) at No. 3 and Breanna Tonello (11-2) at No. 4.
The Lady Falcons' No. 2 doubles duo of Tonello/Courtney Watson (12-2) also took home 2A-8 first-place blue ribbons.
FHS skipper Erica Goodell, who graduated from Ridgewood in 2006, has watched her team grow in two seasons.
"We're elated to be district champions," said the Fivay U.S. History instructor. "When I got here we had some girls that had never played tennis. I spent all of last year developing our players. I feel like we accomplished a major goal by winning districts.
"We're coming into Tuesday's match with extreme momentum."
On the prospects of facing Hernando, "They beat us last year pretty good," pointed out Coach Goodell. "I think we'll give them a run for their money this time."
HHS counters with a pair of 2A-7 champions from the Crystal River tourney in sophomore Grace Curren (15-1) at No. 1 singles and frosh Amber Haisley (9-6) at No. 5 singles.
Additionally, senior Lida Marie Steinkamp won a district title in 2013.
"I'm OK with us getting second (at Crystal River)," explained first-year HHS mentor Connie Foster. "I'm very proud of these girls. I've improved as a coach as the season as gone on, but more importantly, so have the girls.
"We're heading into regionals playing our best tennis."
At a Glance
What - Class 3A, Region III Boys Tennis Semifinal.
Who - 3A-District 6 runner-up Orlando-Edgewater Eagles (14-3) vs. 3A-5 champion Springstead Eagles (12-1).
Where - Delta Woods Park.
When - Tuesday at 3 p.m.
At Stake - Winner advances to Thursday's 3A-III final against the survivor of Ocala-Forest at Daytona Beach-Mainland.
TALE OF THE TAPE: Edgewater at Springstead
No. 1 - EW: *Peter Tong, 12th, vs. SPG: Patrick Deslaurier, 11th, 12-5.
No. 2 - EW: *Hongchen Ji, 12th, vs. SPG: *Hank Deslaurier, 12th, 13-2.
No. 3 - EW: Charles Wilson, 10th, vs. SPG: Robbie Hoover, 11th, 11-5.
No. 4 - EW: Tristan Geving, 11th, vs. SPG: *Alex Hoover, 9th, 16-0.
No. 5 - EW: Tyler Wilson, 12th, vs. SPG: Sam DeAngelis, 9th, 12-4.
No. 1 - EW: *Tong/Ji vs. SPG: P. Deslaurier/R. Hoover, 7-7.
No. 2 - EW: Charles Wilson/Geving vs. SPG: *H. Deslaurier/A. Hoover, 15-0.
* Denotes district champion.
What - Class 2A, Region IV Boys Tennis Semifinal.
Who - 2A-8 runner-up Gulf Buccaneers (5-6) at 2A-7 champion Nature Coast Sharks (14-2).
Where - Nature Coast tennis courts.
When - Tuesday at 3:30 p.m.
At Stake - Winner advances to Thursday's 2A-IV final against the survivor of Pasco at Fivay.
TALE OF THE TAPE: Gulf at NCT
No. 1 - GF: *Alex Walker, 11th, vs. NCT: *Jesse DeWitt, 11th, 14-3.
No. 2 - GF: Aakash Panjabi, 11th, vs. NCT: *Conner Schwefringhaus, 11th, 12-3.
No. 3 - GF: Minh Le, 11th, vs. NCT: Dakota Willey, 10th, 12-4.
No. 4 - GF: Robin Michaelson, 12th, vs. *Alec Lund, 11th, 11-3.
No. 5 - GF: Vaibhav Ghandi, 10th, vs. NCT: *Charles Buckner, 9th, 9-2.
No. 1 - GF: Walker/Panjabi vs. NCT: *DeWitt/Schwefringhaus., 10-1.
No. 2 - GF: Lasia Lo/Michaelson vs. NCT: Nick Pais/Willey, 3-2.
* Denotes district champion.
What - Class 2A, Region IV Girls Tennis Semifinal.
Who - 2A-7 runner-up Hernando Lady Leopards (8-5) at 2A-8 champion Fivay Lady Falcons (9-2).
Where - Fivay High tennis courts, 12115 Chicago Ave., Hudson.
When - Tuesday at 9 a.m.
At Stake - Winner advances to Thursday's 2A-IV final against the survivor of Tarpon Springs at Pasco.
TALE OF THE TAPE: Hernando at Fivay
No. 1 - HER: *Grace Curren, 10th, 15-1, vs. FIV: Esther Eaton, 12th, 4-7.
No. 2 - HER: Jada Bergstrom, 11th, 5-9, vs. FIV: *Amber Mariano, 12th, 10-3.
No. 3 - HER: Lida Marie Steinkamp, 12th, 10-2 vs. FIV: *Ashleigh Day, 11th, 10-3.
No. 4 - HER: Shelby Smith, 12th, 8-4, vs. FIV: *Breanna Tonello, 11th, 11-2.
No. 5 - HER: *Amber Haisley, 9th, 9-6 vs. FIV: *Alyssa Dierking, 12th, 10-0.
No. 1 - HER: Curren/Bergstrom, 11-3, vs. FIV: Mariano/Day, 8-4.
No. 2 - HER: Steinkamp/Smith, 6-5, vs. FIV: *Tonello/Courtney Watson, 12-2.
* Denotes district champion.