For two seasons, Land O’Lakes tennis star Colin Roller has rolled through the regular season, districts and regionals without losing a match.
The state tournament, however, has been a different story for the talented junior.
As a freshman, Roller qualified individually for the Class 3A state singles field but was upended in straight sets in the first round.
Last season after helping guide the Gators to state (Class 2A) as a team, Roller was again bounced in the first round in straight sets by the tournament’s No. 2 seed.
In his third season at Land O’Lakes, Roller, the St. Petersburg Times’ North Suncoast player of the year a year ago, is intent on not only leading the Gators back to the state tournament as a team but also sticking around the tournament a little longer himself.
“I wasn’t sure what to expect at states my first couple of years,” he said. “I was an underclassmen and the guys I was playing were juniors and seniors. They play much bigger tennis at state.”
With that in mind, Roller has improved substantially from last year and has added more variety to his game.
“My backhand has actually gotten a lot better,” Roller said. “I’ve started to serve and volley more instead of staying on the baseline. I’ve got good hands at the net so I feel like I’ve got a better shot at winning points at the net.”
With a couple seasons of experience under his belt, Roller is ready to make a name for himself on the state level like he has the past two seasons on the North Suncoast.
“Now that I’ve been there the last two years, I do feel like I have the winning mentality that I can beat these kids at states,” he said.
Boys to watch
Victor Cao, So., Gulf: Could play No. 1 singles for most teams, but, at No. 2, Cao should be favored to win nearly every time he steps on the court.
Viroath Danh, Sr., Gulf: Combines with Cao to provide the Bucs with a strong 1-2 punch at the top of the lineup.
Courage Okungbowa, So., Wiregrass Ranch: Transfer from Virginia will play in the No. 1 position for the Bulls.
Spencer Ong, Sr., Wiregrass Ranch: A first team all-North Suncoast selection last season, Ong provides the Bulls with a strong, experienced No. 2.
Colin Roller, Jr., Land O’Lakes: Will be counted on to carry an inexperienced Gators squad early in the season.
Tyler Schwefringhaus, Sr., Nature Coast: Enters this season as the player to beat in Hernando County.
Boys teams with an eye on state
Gulf: If early-season matches are any indication, the Bucs will be one of the teams to beat on the North Suncoast after knocking off Land O’Lakes 4-3 in both teams’ season opener. Danh and Cao highlight the top of the lineup while a solid group of players behind them provide skill and depth.
Nature Coast: The Sharks won a district title a season ago and advanced to the region final before losing to Land O’Lakes. With most of their top players back, the Sharks are one of the area’s favorites to qualify for state. Besides Schwefringhaus, the Sharks return quality starters in Zenon Kouts, David Cross and Andrew Lund.
Wiregrass Ranch: The Bulls were blessed with an influx of talent from outside the area. Virginia transplant Okungbowa is a player of the year candidate while Texas transfer Eric Bush (No. 3 singles) and Puerto Rico transfer Jaime Feliciano (No. 4 singles) give the Bulls an incredible amount of depth. Coach David Wilson said he could send his Nos. 6 through 10 players out on the court and beat most teams.
The 2011 North Suncoast girls tennis season will be marked more by who isn’t playing.
Wiregrass Ranch sisters Elizabeth and Sarah Means are skipping high school tennis, according to their mother Roslyn. Elizabeth, a senior, and Sarah, a junior, will focus on the junior circuit instead.
Last season, the duo won a state title in doubles (Class 3A) after dismantling the rest of the field with relative ease. The Means sisters did not drop a set in four matches, throttling the tournament’s No. 1 seed 6-1, 6-2 in the first round and finishing their title run by dispatching Chamberlain’s Jamie Mera and McKenzie O’Brien 6-2, 6-4 in the final.
Another pair of sisters not playing high school tennis this season is Nicola and Angela Wellman. They led River Ridge to a district title and a spot in the region final, and Nicola was an individual district champ after knocking off Sarah Means in three sets.
Now, with four of the top area players not competing, it’s anyone’s guess will take over as the undisputed No. 1.
Zephyrhills junior Sarah Vandeberg seems a good candidate. The Bulldogs were one match from qualifying for states in 2010 but fell to Crystal River 4-3 in the region final. With Vandeberg improving during the offseason, the Bulldogs could be ready to shake off that hard-fought loss.
Hernando County has a couple promising youngsters ready to make a name for themselves as well.
One thing, though, is certain. There are more questions than answers as the girls tennis season begins this week.
Players to watch
Shelby Marrero, So., Hernando: Slides into the top singles spot and will challenge for top player honors in Hernando County.
Delanie McCabe, Jr., Nature Coast: Will alternate with Mallorie Pickersgill at No. 1 singles to highlight a formidable lineup.
Erin Moynihan, Fr., Weeki Wachee: Freshman phenom set to put Hornets tennis on the map.
Hannah Still, Sr., Wiregrass Ranch: Second team all-North Suncoast performer a year ago after winning her opening round match (No. 3 singles) at state.
Tijana Subotic, Sr., River Ridge: Will have to pick up the slack without the services of the Wellman sisters. Tijana’s sister Tamara is a freshman phenom playing No. 1 at Gulf.
Sarah Vandeberg, Jr., Zephyrhills: Ready to make a return trip to state after qualifying in singles and doubles as a sophomore.
Teams with an eye on state
River Ridge: Despite the loss of the Wellman sisters, the Royal Knights return three of their top five singles players from a team that won a district title and advanced to the region final.
Wiregrass Ranch: The Bulls were the only local girls team to make it to state last season. They’ll face an uphill battle to return this season without two of their top players. Still provides a solid option at the No. 1 singles spot, however, and the Bulls have good depth behind her.
Zephyrhills: Losing Chelsea Smith to graduation is a blow to the Bulldogs chances, but with Vandeberg leading the way, Zephyrhills will again challenge for district and regional titles.
Class 3A, District 5: Central, Citrus, Hudson, Lecanto, Leesburg, Ridgewood, River Ridge, Springstead, Wiregrass Ranch
Class 2A, District 5: Belleview, Crystal River, Dunnellon, Hernando, Nature Coast, North Marion, Santa Fe
Class 2A, District 6: Anclote, Fivay, Gulf, Land O’Lakes, Mitchell, Pasco, Sunlake, Wesley Chapel, Zephyrhills
Class A, District 8: Academy at the Lakes, Academy of the Holy Names, Berkeley Prep, Bishop McLaughlin, Cambridge, Carrollwood Day, Seffner Christian, Tampa Catholic, Tampa Prep, Weeki Wachee