TAMPA — Nicole Mera first picked up a tennis racket at age 7. Since then, the Chamberlain senior has had her share of ups and downs with the game — even quitting once in middle school and vowing she’d never play again.
As some kid sensations never realize, Mera has learned that life is more than lugging around your racket bag. Mera approaches next week’s state tournament knowing this will likely be her final flirtation with competitive tennis, and she’s content with that.
Mera will compete in the Class 3A individual singles and doubles tournament at Lake Brantley High for the second straight year. Last season, she was one half of the 3A state champion individual doubles team and advanced to the semifinals in individual singles.
In Mera’s words: “This is it.” Despite having the opportunity to play D-I collegiate tennis, she plans to attend Florida State where her tennis will be limited to club and intramural matches.
“I’ve trained a lot over the summer and I knew that coming into this season this was it,” Mera said Friday. “This is it right here. If I lose I’m done; that’s my four years. I figured I’d give it my all.”
When she arrived at Chamberlain as a freshman, she was known as the younger sister of Jamie Mera, a then-Chiefs senior now playing college tennis at Missouri. She had just decided to pick up tennis again after quitting in the sixth grade.
“I burned out,” she said. “I think a lot had to do about starting at such a young age. I was tired of it. I told myself, ‘I hate this sport. I’m never playing it again.’
“It’s something that if you don’t love it, it’s hard to do well.”
Though her passion left, the natural skills she has as a ranked under-10 youth player never did. When she began playing in high school, she kept getting better.
Now she has made a name for herself.
“She’s grown into her own,” said Bill Workman, Chamberlain’s second-year girls coach. “She set an example for the whole team. We had girls who didn’t know how to keep score, but when you see how serious she takes it and how she handles practice, it’s a great example. Just this season, our girls have improved so much.”
Mera has also set an example in the classroom. Workman said she owns a 5.72 weighted grade point average and is ranked 28th in her class.
This season, Mera brings an 11-1 singles record to state, her only loss coming to defending Class 4A No. 2 state champion Blair Martin of Plant. She was undefeated in district play and dropped just two games in her Class 3A-8 district title match. And this year’s state field — without former Northeast star Danielle Collins, who beat Mera last year — is more wide open.
In teaming with Lili Na’daslaki, a Hungarian foreign-exchange student, Mera has the chance to repeat as individual doubles champ and even win the overall doubles crown.
“It’s kind of a sad thing, especially when you’ve been surrounded by tennis for so long,” Mera said. “But I’ll still play, just not as competitively.
“I think being there last year will make it easier. I know everything that goes on. I think I’m more prepared this year than last year. I’m hoping to do really well, better than last year.”
When/where: 8 a.m. Monday-Wednesday. Red Bug Lake Park, Casselberry (teams); Sylvan Lake Park, Sanford (individuals)
Team: Holy Names girls. The Jaguars make a repeat trip to state with a lot of fresh faces. No. 1 player Bianca Roberts is the lone senior in AHN’s lineup, the team’s unquestioned leader. No. 2 Caroline Lozo, an eighth-grader, and No. 3 Paige Leavy, a seventh-grader, have talent beyond their years but will have to overcome more experienced players.
Individual qualifiers: Carrollwood Day’s Eric Fitz-Randolph (No. 1 boys singles), Tampa Prep’s Patrick Stewart/Alan Williams (No. 1 boys doubles), Carrollwood Day’s Jacque and Lauren Fitz-Randolph (No. 1 girls doubles)
When/where: 8 a.m. Monday-Wednesday. Sanlando Park, Altamonte Springs (teams); Lake Brantley High (individuals)
Team: Hillsborough boys. Anchored by one of the top 1-2 singles combinations in junior Jack Murphy and senior Brian Kowalski, the Terriers look to improve on last season’s runnerup finish at state. The play of No. 3 Will Clarke and No. 4 Greg Hasegawa, who also team up for No. 2 doubles, will be key in their first state appearances.
Individual qualifiers: Chamberlain’s Nicole Mera (No. 1 girls singles), Chamberlain’s Mera/Lili Na’daslaki (No. 1 girls doubles)
When/where: 8 a.m. Wednesday-Friday. Red Bug Lake Park, Casselberry (team); Sylvan Lake Park, Sanford (individuals)
Team: Jesuit boys. No. 1 Jamie Sullivan has been here before — he was an individual singles qualifier last spring — but the rest of Jesuit’s lineup hasn’t. The Tigers are making their first team appearance since 2007, but first-timers No. 2 Jordan Nasser, No. 3 Chris Pagliarulo, No. 4 T.R. Bopp and No. 5 Ryan Walden had a combined 7-1 singles record in two region matches
Local qualifiers: Steinbrenner’s Grace Korta, Steinbrenner (No. 1 girls singles), Steinbrenner’s Korta/Kaleigh Wagner (No. 1 girls doubles)
When/where: 8 a.m. Wednesday-Friday. Sanlando Park, Altamonte Springs (team); Lake Brantley (individuals)
Teams: Wharton boys. The Wildcats narrowly emerged from the region final with a 4-3 win over district rival Plant and now play for their fourth straight team title. No. 1 Ben Hwang and No. 2 Rohit Navelkar have been nothing short of dominating and are experienced state players — with Navelkar making his fourth appearance.
Plant girls. No. 1 Blair Martin, only a sophomore, won the No. 2 team singles title last year. Undefeated this season, she has been rarely challenged, but the competition at No. 1 will take a huge jump at state. No. 3 Carol Marie Fraley, the only senior in the Panthers’ top five, has been steady all season and will play in her fourth state tournament.