SPRING HILL — For the fourth straight season, Ace Performance Tennis hosted its Junior Doubles Tennis Tournament last weekend at Delta Woods Park.
The youth players did not disappoint.
The standout championship final came in the middle school girls bracket. Madeline Pickersgill and Grace Curren withstood a charge from Bryn Buckner and Erin Moynihan to take home the first-place trophies.
"Every year, we see better and higher-caliber matches in the finals," tournament organizer Louise Downey said. "It's real nice to see because it means the kids are sticking with (tennis) instead of just trying the sport and leaving."
After dropping the first set 5-7, Pickersgill and Curren buckled down to win the second set 6-4. The two-set split set up a final-set tiebreaker that would determine the champions. Neither duo faltered under the pressure as the teams went back and forth in a marathonlike finish. Finally, it was Pickersgill and Curren who got to 10 points first, winning 10-9.
The victory was especially satisfying for Pickersgill, who lost in the final of last year's middle school girls division, teaming with Brigette Weigl. The top seed heading into the final, that tandem took the title match to three sets as well before falling 7-5, 2-6 and 3-10. Pickersgill felt like she learned a lot from that experience.
"I wanted to keep positive this year," Pickersgill said. "(Grace) was getting upset, and I let her know that she could get it back and we could still win."
An interesting aspect about the win is that the two champs are not regular doubles partners. They met playing another sport together — soccer.
Pickersgill and Curren each competed for Brooksville Recreational Soccer the past couple years. Other than that, the two attend different schools, train with different coaches and practice at different facilities.
Pickersgill, whose sister, Mallorie, was a runner-up in the high school mixed division, also was a runner-up in the middle school mixed division, teaming with Alec Lund. She is a sixth-grader at Challenger K-8 School of Science and Mathematics in Spring Hill and trains with John and Louise Downey at Ace Performance Tennis, the hosts of this tournament.
Curren, a sixth-grader at Parrott Middle School in Brooksville, receives most of her training with Judy Jeanette at Strings & Things and her mother, Valerie Curren, a coach and teacher at Parrott. After picking up a racquet at age 3, she fell in love with the sport. She was as surprised as anyone that she and Pickersgill clicked so well.
"When we first got together, it was really amazing," Curren said. "We were a really great pair."
Neither Pickersgill nor Curren expect their success to end soon. As middle school student-athletes, both have bright futures ahead of them. The duo plans to play and compete together more often.
The field for the Junior Doubles Tennis Tournament grew from 28 in 2007 to 31 this year. The growth has community leaders like the Downeys excited about the prospects of where the sport could be heading locally.
Last season, the tournament included 40 players. Louise Downey attributes the drop this year to scheduling.
"The big difference between last year and this year is that we didn't have as many high school kids take part," she said. "The ACT and SAT (college entrance tests) were held on Saturday morning (when the tournament began)."
The majority of the feedback regarding the tournament has been positive, Downey said, and, for the first time, a sponsorship agreement was reached with a local business. Chick-fil-A provided lunch for all of the players and tournament officials.