BROOKSVILLE — With his teammates lining up to send a barrage of tennis balls flying at him, Zenon Kouts prepared for his final high school tournament.
The intense drills get him in shape for the level of competition he’ll be facing in Monday's Class 2A state tournament at Sylvan Lake Park in Sanford. Kouts, the Sharks’ all-time record holder for singles victories (57), hopes the experience will help.
“I feel confident,” said Kouts, who won one match at state last season. “I have less nerves knowing what it’s going to be like there.”
In his first year as the Sharks’ No. 1, Kouts went 15-3, losing to some of the best players in the area — Wiregrass Ranch’s Courage Okungbowa, Jesuit’s Jamie Sullivan and Gainesville Eastside’s Frazier Springfield.
“I’ve worked on all aspects of my game,” he said. “I got a little sloppy toward the end of the season, so I need a tuneup before going to state.”
His dedication has set an example for his teammates. Freshmen Alec Lund, Conner Schwefringhaus and Jesse DeWitt picked up practice habits from Kouts that should help when they turn into Shark leaders next season.
Though the Sharks fell in the first round of regionals this season, the senior thinks he is capable of competing with any player in the field.
“All these kids are in the same position as me,” Kouts said. “I’ll be in the draw against players from schools that didn’t win their regions either.”
Kouts will have to improve his first serve percentage, which was only about 40 percent against Springfield in the his straight-sets loss in the first round of regionals.
Regardless of his success at state, the Sharks star has a bright future. At only 17, he is one of the youngest seniors, and coach Tom Brown believes his youth could help him get more opportunities going forward.
“He can still play USTA junior tournaments for another year after this,” Brown said. “Zenon will have the chance to get better and better.”
Kouts is so young Brown almost mistakenly put him on his roster as a junior this season.
“I wish I had one more season with Zenon,” Brown said. “He is going to be an amazing player next year if he keeps working.”
Girls: Sharks' Delanie returning 'home'
BROOKSVILLE — This is Delanie McCabe’s last hurrah, but she’s ready.
The Nature Coast senior and district singles champion is advancing to state for the first time since the Sharks did so as a team during her freshman year.
She feels as prepared as possible for her return to the big stage since going 21-3 and leading Hernando County in victories in her first varsity campaign.
“Personally, I feel that state is going to be like home for me in a way,” McCabe said. “I would rather go on the court and lose to a tougher player than win easy over a lesser player. I’m excited because it’s a completely different atmosphere.”
She went 12-5 in her first season at No. 1, including a 6-1, 6-2 victory over Pasco’s Rebecca Pelham in the district final.
“Delanie is one of the most tenacious players I’ve ever seen,” coach John Downey said. “States will suit her better because she’s used to big hitters.”
Though McCabe was swept by Crystal River’s Kayla Papp in regionals, she took some lessons from the match that she hopes will help her prepare for state.
“Mostly I am practicing to be more consistent with my serve,” she said. “I know the strokes and the technique. I just have to implement them.”
Longtime friend and teammate Mallorie Pickersgill will join McCabe at state as well for No. 1 doubles. The two shared No. 1 singles duties earlier in the season before McCabe finally cemented the position.
“It’s a big advantage for us having played together for so long because most girls don’t have long to get to know each other,” McCabe said. “We know each other so well that we switch without having to yell it out.”
McCabe is on pace to graduate this summer from Pasco-Hernando Community College with her associate’s degree. She has been accepted to Saint Leo and plans to try out for the tennis team.
When: 4A Monday-Wednesday, 8 a.m.; 3A Wednesday-Friday, 8
Where: Team competition at Sanlando Park; individual competition at Lake Brantley
4A local qualifiers: Wiregrass Ranch’s Courage Okungbowa (No. 1 boys singles), Okungbowa and Eric Busch (No. 1 doubles), Star Makarome (No. 1 girls singles), Makarome and Tiffany Garner (No. 1 doubles)
3A qualifiers: Land O’Lakes’ Colin Roller (No. 1 boys singles), Roller and David Dollbaum (No. 1 doubles), Zephyrhills’ Sarah Vande Berg (No. 1 girls singles), Land O’Lakes’ Linzi and Cori Arndt (No. 1 doubles)
When: Monday-Wednesday; 8 a.m.
Where: Team competition at Casselberry Red Bug Lake Park; individual competition at Sanford Sylvan Lake Park
2A qualifiers: Nature Coast’s Zenon Kouts (No. 1 boys singles), Pasco’s Austin Riddaugh and Josh Morris (No. 1 doubles), Nature Coast’s Delanie McCabe (No. 1 girls singles), McCabe and Mallorie Pickersgill (No. 1 doubles)