Player of the Year: Kiril Kirkov, Sr., King
Why we picked him: The centerpiece of the Lions’ tennis renaissance, Kirkov was undefeated all season until losing a three-set match in the first round of the Class 3A team singles competition. The senior has manned King’s top position for three seasons and gone undefeated through the regional round the past two. With Kirkov leading the way, King won consecutive district and region titles for the first time in memory. The Lions even defeated perennial power Wharton this season, a landmark victory for the program.
Most impressive accomplishment: In a season of mostly blowouts, Kirkov pointed to his comeback victory in a 6-1, 4-6, 6-4 singles match against Plant’s Alec Josepher during the regular season. Kirkov said he hadn’t been feeling well hours before the match, and the illness took a toll on him late in the first set. “I was very proud that I got to pull that one out,” he said. “It was definitely one of my toughest matches.”
Did you know? A native of Asenovgrad, Bulgaria, Kirkov picked up tennis from his father at age 4 then moved to the United States when he was 12 to get better instruction. Though tennis is his first love and best sport, Kirkov is also a big fan of soccer. That’s not exactly surprising for someone who grew up in Europe, of course. Kirkov played on King’s varsity soccer team as a sophomore then gave it up to focus more on school and tennis. Since then he has settled for religiously watching the Premier and Spanish leagues, even making friends with a few other international students at King who closely follow the game. “I enjoy it a lot,” he said. “Everybody plays it in Bulgaria. It was my favorite thing to do, when I had free time.”
Future plans: Kirkov earned a tennis scholarship to Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh, where he plans to follow in the footsteps of his father and mother and study engineering. From there, Kirkov hopes to return to Europe someday. Maybe England or France. “I really like the European spirit,” said Kirkov, who’s also not particularly fond of driving or suburban sprawl.
Sam Chaffin, Jr., Wharton: A second-team nominee last spring, Chaffin earned a promotion by winning district and region individual singles championships and making it to the state semifinals.
Jordan Nasser, Sr., Jesuit: Once again, Nasser is on the first team after going undefeated in team singles until states and advancing to the semifinals of No. 1 team doubles.
Alec Josepher, Jr., Plant: Earned another spot on the first team after being part of a doubles team that advanced to the finals of the Class 4A individual championship match.
Eric Fitz-Randolph, Jr., Carrollwood Day: Another 2012 first-teamer, Fitz-Randolph repeated as district and region champ.
Harrison Heysek, Sr., Plant City: Won the Andres Garcia Memorial Tennis Award given to the county’s top male player.
Harrison Fisher, Jr., Chamberlain
David Pagliarulo, Sr., Jesuit
Sam Rice, So., Tampa Prep
Palmer Evans, So., Jesuit
Victor Ke, Sr., King
Alonso: Zack Benham; Berkeley Prep: Gray Aloian, Stephen Jordan; Chamberlain: Hunter O’Brien; East Bay: Navarro Hooks; Gaither: Steve Goldman; Jesuit: Alex Crosby; King: Vignesh Bhethanabotla, Greg Smith, Hengyi Wu; Newsome: Alex Meucci, Garrett Watson; Plant: Schuyler Welch; Plant City: Spencer Heysek; Robinson: Michael Marinsky; Steinbrenner: Max Kennard; Wharton: Alex Crnogorac
Coach of the year
Peter Adler, King: Adler has taken over a program that had little track record of success and has won consecutive district and region championships in dominating fashion. These are the first titles of their kind for the program in recent memory. Adler has built a program that’s much deeper and talented than Kirkov, the team’s top player the past three years.
Player of the Year: Blair Martin, Sr., Plant
Why we picked her: It’d be hard to name a more accomplished local player than Martin, who has been named county player of the year for a third straight season. The route back to the top was a little more difficult this year, as she dropped a match in region competition for the first time. But Martin bounced back in a big way, again anchoring Plant’s dramatic second-day surge to its fourth state title in six years. First, Martin advanced to the final of the Class 4A No. 1 team singles competition where she lost 6-4, 6-4. Then, fighting off cramps and exhaustion, Martin teamed with sophomore Gabby Rodriguez to win consecutive three-set matches en route to the No. 1 team doubles title — and the state title. Martin and Rodriguez came back the next day to complete their undefeated run with a three-set victory in the overall doubles final. If there was an easier way to claim a championship, Martin never figured it out.
Most impressive accomplishment: It’s much easier to look back fondly on that grueling second day at the state tournament today than it was at the time. Martin was severely dehydrated and could barely move late in the semifinal round of the doubles championship. Martin and Rodriguez lost that first set 6-1 to a team from Dr. Krop, looking slow and overwhelmed. But they rallied for the win and did much the same in the final against Cypress Bay. It was a six-hour day of competition that brought the girls to the brink of tears, breakdown and exhaustion. “I was so not in the right state of mind that day,” Martin said. “We were getting killed. But somehow we overcame it all and won the championship.”
Did you know? Uncommon among elite high school athletes of Martin’s caliber, she carries no illusions that she’ll be able to play at a professional level. “I’m going to school for academics. There’s going to be that balance of school and good tennis,” she said. “Tennis is kind of fun for me at the moment.” It was part of the reason that she chose Furman over several other schools, including several in the SEC. “At those schools, I feel the focus is more sports than school.”
Future plans: A Furman signee, Martin said she will figure out her academic major later. “I’m just going with the flow,” she said. “I’m good at math. I just feel like, I’ll take some classes and figure it out.” Until it’s time to leave for school in August, Martin said she will likely work at a local country club and train — nearly six hours a day — for the rest of summer.
Daniela Nasser, So., Academy of the Holy Names: A repeat first-team selection, Nasser didn’t lose a match all season until the finals of the Class 2A No. 1 team singles division.
Caroline Lozo, So., Academy of the Holy Names: Pressed into duty as the Jaguars’ No. 1 player late in the season, Lozo proved to be worthy of the designation. She doubled as the region’s No. 1 team singles and No. 1 doubles champ and advanced to the final of No. 2 team singles.
Jacquelyn Fitz-Randolph, So., Carrollwood Day: A two-time first-teamer, Fitz-Randolph won the region and district championships and advanced to the semifinals of the state No. 1 team singles competition.
Rachael Adler, Sr., King: Won the region and district championships in individual singles and doubles competition.
Gabby Rodriguez, So., Plant: The other half of the Panthers’ undefeated state No. 1 doubles champ, Rodriguez was also the only girl from the county to claim a singles title, from the No. 3 team spot.
Erica Oosterhout, So., Plant
Sneha Satish, Fr., King
Savannah Ewing, Sr., Newsome
Monica Phipps, So., Plant
Andrea Valencia, So., Wharton
Carrollwood Day: Casey Brynjolfsson, Lauren Fitz-Randolph, Sarah Yaffe; Durant: Danielle Henner, Morgan Trask; Freedom: Maria Horvath; Holy Names: Grace Williams; Newsome: Alaina Ewing, Julia Staddon; Plant: Maria Salmon; Plant City: Lauren Michael; Steinbrenner: Kate Geshel, Masha Mischenko; Wharton: Kylie Paul
Coach of the year
Margaret Drumsta, Plant: It was quite an encore for Drumsta, who again rallied her team for a second-day surge that ended with another state championship for the Panthers. She kept her team’s spirits high at the state tournament even when Plant's chances for repeat seemed particularly bleak.