State tennis tournament
at Sanlando Park, Red Bug Lake Park, Lake Brantley High, Sylvan Lake Park in Altamonte Springs
4A and 2A: Monday-Wednesday
3A and A: Wednesday-Friday
ST. PETERSBURG — St. Petersburg Catholic senior Alyssa Bellini sat on the ground midway through the Barons' region final at Sarasota Out-of-Door Academy, her right ankle swollen, iced and wrapped.
Bellini rolled her ankle midway through her match at No. 2 singles, forcing her to retire. At a time when the match's outcome was still in doubt, Bellini had to give up her spot on the No. 2 doubles team to Molly Smith, another senior, meaning if the Barons did make state, Bellini wouldn't be able to play doubles.
The Barons' hopes of advancing had just suffered a serious blow, and yet Bellini was carefree as she rested on the ground.
She cheered on her teammates.
Like they've done for four years now, the Barons would overcome. Bellini wasn't worried.
"This has been probably our hardest year yet," Bellini said. "But we stuck together as a team.
Two thoughts enter the mind of SPC girls coach Brett Hayman as he scans his state qualifying lineup.
One, the Barons are talented and experienced. Led by singles state title contender Julia Jones, a sophomore, and anchored by four seniors — Bellini, Smith, Jerica Coley and Danielle Nickerson — St. Petersburg Catholic enters Wednesday's Class A state finals with serious designs on improving last year's third-place state finish.
But Hayman also knows that the Barons' run at the top of the Pinellas County tennis food chain is about to come to a close with the majority of his players graduating in a few weeks.
"We're going to enjoy this year while we can," he said.
The seniors leave St. Petersburg Catholic as the most successful class in the school's tennis history. Bellini, Coley, Nickerson and Smith have led the team to the state finals all four years of their high school careers.
They finished fourth four years ago and fourth again the next year. With Jones added to the lineup last season, the Barons were third.
Now, they'll attempt to cement their legacy by winning SPC's first state tennis championship.
"I think it will be disappointing if we don't win states," Coley said. "This is our last shot. We want to go out on top."
Other state qualifiers
Gibbs (girls): Akilah James, Lindsay Hodgdon, Ebony Lamar, Lucie Petrova and Masani Bailey have the Gladiators in their first-ever state final.
Shorecrest (boys): Three of the five Chargers — Garrett Betsarakis, Brendan East and Frank Rodriguez — have played in three straight state finals.
Michael Beiler (Dunedin boys): Beiler is making his second straight trip as an individual qualifier.
Danielle Collins (Northeast girls): Collins is currently ranked No. 2 nationally by the USTA (girls 18 singles).
Ricky Symanski (CCC boys): Upended defending St. Petersburg Times player of the year Betsarakis at district to reach state.
Julia Sikorski (Seminole girls): Hard-hitting freshman cruised through the No. 1 singles bracket at district.
Edward Corty (St. Petersburg boys): Corty's last state appearance was for Canterbury as an individual qualifier in 2007.
Miles Holvoet/Evan Holvoet (Canterbury boys): Brothers Miles (freshman) and Evan (eighth-grader) scored two impressive victories at district to advance.
Michael Beiler/Josh Hammond (Dunedin boys): Falcons' No. 1 (Beiler) and No. 4 (Hammond) players rolled through district.
Emily Dvorak/Agatha Ambrozy (St. Petersburg girls): Green Devils duo made it to the individual doubles final at state a year ago.
Edward Corty/Robert Perry (St. Petersburg boys): One of the most consistent doubles teams all season.