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The results for Plant this year are the same as they were last season: wins, and lots of them.
But there have been key changes from the Panthers of 2011. And it starts at the top.
Gone is Jacquelyn Rosen, the former teen pro phenom who coached Plant to the Class 4A state team title. In her place is a Plant alumna and current teacher who played softball — not tennis — for the Panthers then at the Division I level.
“I don’t want to call it intimidating,” said rookie coach Margaret Drumsta. “But I knew I had taken on a lot. I had my work cut out for me, and the girls were so understanding. They literally, just like I took them under my wing, they took me under theirs.”
After an initial learning period when the team brought Drumsta, who played recreationally in South Tampa years ago, up to speed on high school tennis, it has been nothing but good times. And the Panthers have yet to lose. Going into next week’s district tournament, they are 12-0.
Leading the way at No. 1 singles is junior Blair Martin, the Times’ 2011 player of the year. She, too, has a spotless record this year, anchoring Plant much in the same way she did last year as half of the Division I doubles pair that won the 4A state title.
Martin personally changed coaches between seasons. She’s now at Brandon Sports and Aquatic Center, working with three men who are the former No. 1 players at Florida, Florida State and Miami. Her personal coach, Alex Golub, is a former Seminole.
“I see a huge change. I’m a lot more confident about my game and feel like it’s improved tremendously,” said Martin, who is ranked No. 18 in Florida in 18s and No. 2 in her region. “My fitness has gotten 100 percent better, and I’m more aggressive on the court.”
Also new this season is Martin’s doubles partner, freshman Gabby Rodriguez, Plant’s No. 2 singles player. She’s not the only freshman in the Panthers’ top five — thee-sport athlete Erica Oosterhout wowed everyone and took the No. 4 spot.
“She’s the most athletic player on the team,” Martin said of Oosterhout. “I had heard that she was a great athlete, but I had never seen her play tennis. And she’s great, no doubt.”
Seniors Claire-Mitchell Andrews and Natalie Franklin, who won the state title in the No. 4 singles spot last year, round out the top five.
And while the individual talent at Plant was never in question — all five play on the USTA circuit — Drumstra’s focus has been on the “team” element of high school tennis. A highlight: team dinners at a different player’s house every week of the regular season.
“In the past they didn’t have that team bond that normal team sports have, whether volleyball, basketball or softball, and I wanted to bring that to them,” Drumsta said. “I know what it’s like to be a college athlete, I know what it’s like to be an athlete at Plant, and I wanted to bring that element back to them.”
Something else Plant wouldn’t mind bringing back to South Tampa: the state championship.
“We’re confident,” Martin said, “and hope to do what we did last year.”
Played over two days
When/where: 8 a.m. Monday, Riverhills
Teams: Bloomingdale, Brandon, Durant, Newsome, Plant City, Wiregrass Ranch
When/where: 8 a.m. Monday, Hunter’s Green
Teams: Alonso, Freedom, Gaither, Plant, Riverview, Steinbrenner, Tampa Bay Tech, Wharton
When/where: 8 a.m. Monday, Hillsborough Community College (Dale Mabry campus)
Teams: Armwood, Chamberlain, East Bay, Hillsborough, Jefferson, King, Leto, Sickles, Strawberry Crest
When/where: 9 a.m. Monday, Hillsborough Community College
Teams: Blake, Dunedin, Holy Names, Jesuit, Lakewood, Lennard, Middleton, Robinson, Spoto, Tampa Catholic
When/where: 9 a.m. Wednesday, Hillsborough Community College
Teams: Academy at the Lakes, Berkeley Prep, Bishop McLaughlin, Cambridge, Carrollwood Day, Citrus Park Christian, Seffner Christian, Tampa Prep, Weeki Wachee