WESLEY CHAPEL — The North Suncoast has produced a few glimmers of boys tennis awesomeness over the years, but never a dominant player, on a dominant team, with a real chance at winning a state championship.
That has changed.
When the district playoffs open next week, the Wiregrass Ranch boys will not only enter as a big-time favorite, but as a team that carries with it expectations usually reserved for private school powerhouses.
The Bulls are 16-0 and haven’t dropped a set. Heck, they’ve barely dropped a game.
“I think what we talk about more is that it would be a disappointing season if we don’t make it to states,” said coach Dave Wilson.
The Bulls have cruised, and are coming off a week in which they topped traditional power Jesuit, part of Wilson’s beefier schedule.
Their primary competition in the district will come from Plant City. Combined, the Raiders and Bulls have every No. 1 and No. 2 seed in the tournament.
And the Bulls would also have to get by, most likely, any combination of Wharton, Plant, Alonso or Steinbrenner in the regionals to reach the state tournament.
But Wiregrass Ranch, which has won some individual tennis and track state titles but never a team championship, is built to make history — no public school team in Pasco or Hernando County has ever won a team state tennis championship, though Saddlebrook Academy won the Class A title in 2002 and has been runnerup six times.
“My only concern going in are injuries,” Wilson said. “If we get to state and depending on the draw, we have a legitimate chance.”
Wilson, the coach since the school opened in 2006, built some of his earlier teams with a few solid players at the top, and filled in the lower part of his lineup with athletes.
This team is built with experienced USTA players.
While young, the Bulls’ youth has already been tested.
No. 2 freshman Agie Moreno, whose father, Agustin, is the women’s tennis coach at USF, just played in a tournament in Mexico; No. 3 Niels van Dam, also a freshman, recently competed in the Junior Davis Cup in El Salvador.
Even Wiregrass Ranch’s No. 6 player, Sebastian Castillo, is 8-0 in singles and doubles.
“It’s completely different,” said Wilson. “Back then, I could beat all my players except my No. 1. Now, I can’t beat my No. 9.”
It is No. 1 star Courage Okungbowa who makes the strongest case for Wiregrass Ranch’s chances at postseason success.
The FAMU signee won his match against Jesuit last week, even though he dropped his first games of the season, snapping a string of 162 straight.
He has been the most dominant player, maybe in all of Tampa Bay.
With Okungbowa as a top-notch No. 1 who can compete with anyone in the district, region or state, the Bulls won’t have to rely solely on amassing points at the 3-4-5 slots.
They are strong at the top, incredibly deep and ready to win.
“If you go into regional and state and you have a No. 1 that is that strong, and you can follow that up with a strong 2, it’s a big difference,” said Wilson.