LAND O’LAKES — The sun beats down on the hard court through the 85-degree air, and Colin Roller has hardly worked up a sweat.
The Land O’Lakes senior rarely needs a sip of water, because he hardly needs to run for a point. He lets his powerful groundstrokes quickly dispatch his latest foe, an outmatched No. 1 singles player from Leesburg.
When his latest victory — a 6-0, 6-0 blowout — is over, he calmly walks off the court and into the shade. He’s relaxing on the bleachers beneath a tree before his teammates have even finished their first sets.
“He’s not intense about the game,” Gators coach Jasalyn Gerazounis said. “He’s out there to generally have fun. It just so happens that he is phenomenal.”
Roller has blown out his high school competitors the same way he destroyed players when he was younger.
Roller picked up the game after watching his older brother play, and he towered above his shorter peers with a frame that eventually sprouted to 6-foot-4. His early competition could outrun him, but his size and power knocked them out.
“Because he had such big strokes, he dominated with his strength,” said his mother, Felicia.
Roller has used his strong serve and improved backhand to win the district championship in his first three seasons at Land O’Lakes. He’ll be the favorite for a fourth in a row next week.
His only two Pasco County losses in the past two seasons have come to Wiregrass Ranch star Courage Okungbowa, and even though he’s undefeated and mostly unchallenged this year, Roller enjoys his break from USTA events — playing tennis for the Gators.
“It’s good practice for me,” said Roller, who also won the doubles title at districts last spring. “It gets the confidence up.”
Roller’s confidence has been soaring in the past few weeks. He committed to East Carolina this month. The 17-year-old also had one of his best showings at a national tournament when he won four matches and claimed victories over an Indiana-bound senior and one of the country’s top sophomores at the USTA National Spring Championship.
Traveling back from that tournament in Alabama forced him to miss the regular-season rematch with rival Okungbowa, but Roller said the lessons he took from competing against the country’s best were worth it.
“I always knew I could play with the top players, but I was never really beating the top players,” Roller said. “I’d always play them close.
But there I beat three or four solid players that normally I wouldn’t beat.”
As Roller continued to tinker with his backhand and work on his serve, the rest of his team grew up. The Gators were expected to rebuild last year in Gerazounis’ first season, but the young squad took second at districts.
This season, freshman David Dollbaum has been strong at No. 2 singles and filled in for Roller in the top position when he was out playing junior tournaments. Tyler Sanders has emerged as a breakout player, jumping from No. 5 singles to No. 3 and fueling Land O’Lakes’ hopes of recapturing the district championship.
“Last year was supposed to be a rebuilding year, but I couldn’t have been more pleased with my boys,” Gerazounis said. “This year I’m even more pleased.”
Roller’s season is just getting started.
He’s booked junior tournaments from Naples to Michigan in the coming months before heading to East Carolina, where he plans to play singles and doubles while studying business or finance.
Until then, the three-time state qualifier is focused on winning two more matches than he did last year to turn a state semifinal appearance into a championship.
“Two more would be nice,” Roller said.
When/where: 8 a.m. Monday, Riverhills
Teams: Bloomingdale, Brandon, Durant, Newsome, Plant City, Wiregrass Ranch
When/where: 8:30 a.m. Monday, River Ridge
Teams: Central, Land O’Lakes, Leesburg, Mitchell, River Ridge, Springstead, Sunlake, Zephyrhills
When/where: 9 a.m. Monday, Wesley Chapel
Teams: Anclote, Fivay, Hernando, Hudson, Gulf, Nature Coast, Pasco, Ridgewood, Wesley Chapel
When/where: 9 a.m. April 4, Hillsborough Community College
Teams: Academy at the Lakes, Berkeley Prep, Bishop McLaughlin, Cambridge, Carrollwood Day, Citrus Park Christian, Seffner Christian, Tampa Prep, Weeki Wachee
Matt Baker can be reached at email@example.com.