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Tennis: Tempered expectations for a now thriving Pinellas Park program

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Thu. March 28, 2013 | Rodney Page | Email

Tennis: Tempered expectations for a now thriving Pinellas Park program

Jason Nguyen embodies the fighting spirit of Pinellas Park’s tennis team.

As a freshman, Nguyen took a second-semester tennis class taught by Holly Miller. It was his introduction to the game,  and he liked it so much that he continued playing all summer.

As a sophomore, he went out for the team, also coached by Miller. Nguyen never did crack the starting five, but he kept practicing and finally earned the No. 2 spot as a junior.

“I lost a majority of my matches,’’ Nguyen said. “It was a pretty bad record but it was a good experience.’’

Now a senior, Nguyen is the No. 1 singles player for the Patriots. He finished the regular season with a 9-6 record and helped Pinellas Park (11-2) to one of its best marks in school history.

Nguyen is also a realist. He doesn’t dream of one day playing at Wimbledon. He doesn’t even think he has much of a chance at next week’s district tournament, which includes powerhouse county teams like East Lake, Countryside and Palm Harbor University.

“For me, if I play at my full potential I might have a chance,’’ Nguyen said. “I know those teams are good.’’

Fellow senior Kinhtai Lien has also improved since picking up the game as a freshman. His brother, Tu, played at Largo and suggested he try out for Pinellas Park’s team.

“I was pretty terrible,’’ Lien said. “Every game I played it was zero and eight. I won one doubles match the whole year.’’

Now he is the Patriots’ No. 2 player with a 7-7 record.

Miller, who has coached the Patriots the past four years, said she has seen big improvement in both players since they were freshmen in her tennis class.

“They have both worked very hard,’’ she said. “They have improved so much. Jason was our No. 8 player as a sophomore and now he’s our No. 1.’’

And Chris Dunlop (No. 3), Neel Patel (No. 4) and Zachary Zimbaro (No. 5) have provided the depth necessary for Pinellas Park, which will be put to the test next week.

The Patriots have yet to play Countryside, East Lake or Palm Harbor U. This season, the only scheduling requirement was that schools play teams in their Pinellas County Athletic Conference region. With Pinellas Park in the PCAC south, Miller did not schedule matches vs. the tough north county schools.

“Why would I?’’ Miller said. “I know we can’t compete against some of those other schools. We’ll probably get our (butts) kicked. I wanted the kids to play against teams they were evenly matched with.’’

Still, for a team with no country club or summer tournament players, 11 wins is impressive. And this is the best way for players like Nguyen and Lien to end their tennis careers.

“It’s been a great season so far,’’ Nguyen said.

District tournaments
Note: Played over two days; boys and girls at the same site unless noted.

Class 4A-7
When/where: McMullen Tennis Complex, 8:30 a.m. Tuesday-April 3
Teams: Clearwater, Countryside, East Lake, Palm Harbor University, Pinellas Park

Class 4A-8
When/where: Bradenton King Middle School, 8:30 a.m. Monday-Tuesday
Teams: Manatee, North Port, Sarasota Riverview, Seminole, St. Petersburg

Class 3A-11
When/where: Treasure Bay, 10:30 a.m. Tuesday-April 3
Teams: Boca Ciega, Dixie Hollins, Gibbs, Largo, Northeast, Osceola, Tarpon Springs

Class 2A-10
When/where: Hillsborough Community College, 8:30 a.m. Monday-Tuesday
Teams: Blake, Dunedin, Holy Names, Jesuit, Lakewood, Lennard, Middleton, Robinson, Spoto, Tampa Catholic

Class A-9
When/where: Boys at Longwood Run in Sarasota on Day 1, at Sarasota Out-of-Door Day 2; girls at ODA, 8:30 a.m. Monday-Tuesday
Teams: Admiral Farragut, Bradenton Christian, Calvary Christian, Canterbury, Cardinal Mooney, Clearwater Central Catholic, Indian Rocks Christian, Northside Christian, Out-of-Door, Shorecrest, St. Petersburg Catholic, St. Stephen’s

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