With district tennis tournaments approaching as expeditiously as a serve-and-volley specialist approaches the net, it's time for an assessment of what we've seen so far on the local hard courts. After conferring with the local topspin doctors and story line judges, we offer our look at the area teams and individuals with the best postseason potential, tossing in a few interesting local subplots for good measure.
No. 1 boys team
Though we'll find out for sure Tuesday when River Ridge (11-0) hosts Wiregrass Ranch (9-1) in what shapes up as Pasco County's boys match of the year, our nod goes to the Royal Knights.
Coach Paul Scolaro's squad has lost only two — yes, two — individual matches this season, and one of those was by default. Additionally, the top three singles players — Lucas Loman, Dylan Douglas and Matt Perry — are seniors. Douglas has had knee problems, but is gradually being worked back into the lineup.
"I hope our experience helps give us a leg up on (Wiregrass)," said Scolaro, who has guided teams to two conference titles at River Ridge but is seeking his first district crown.
No. 1 girls team
Barring an intrasquad match against the boys team, no one is likely to touch River Ridge (10-0) in the regular season. Unbeaten freshmen Tijana Subotic and Nicola Wellman — the No. 1 and 2 singles players, respectively — are complemented by seniors Kristin Greenup, Brittany Hahn, Erin Miller at the other three singles spots. Subotic has yet to surrender a set.
"I wouldn't necessarily say we haven't been challenged," coach Doug Howery said. "But the kids are playing hard."
No. 1A girls team
Though Wiregrass Ranch could pose a challenge, Nature Coast (9-0) is the favorite to capture the Class 2A, District 6 title. Aside from Wiregrass, which fell 4-3 to the Sharks, no other team has won more than two individual matches against coach Louise Downey's club, seeking its second district title in a row.
Junior Rachel Conter (8-1) is Nature Coast's No. 1 player, but sophomore Olivia Williams and senior Katie Stellpflug are a combined 15-0 at No. 2 and 3, respectively. Conter and Williams are unbeaten in six matches at No. 1 doubles.
Best boys player
Our nod goes to undefeated Hernando sophomore Chris Nyholm, who solidified his status as the area's premier male player with a 6-0, 6-1 triumph Thursday over talented Wiregrass Ranch junior James Reilly. "He's definitely the top kid in the district," Wiregrass coach Dave Wilson said. "There's no question about that."
Best girls player
Though we're not familiar with the out-of-area teams (i.e. Leesburg, Groveland South Lake) in Class 3A, District 5, we're fairly certain Subotic will be the best local player in that 10-team tournament.
(best inaugural season)
Sunlake's boys entered the week 4-2 and 3-0 in Sunshine Athletic Conference play. Freshman No. 1 Nicholai Atkinson was 5-1, his only loss a three-setter to Reilly.
(best second season)
Wiregrass Ranch's boys, 5-7 last year, were undefeated entering the week before a loss to Nature Coast. Logan Burstiner, Eric Rivas and Mitchell Phelps have combined to go 9-1 at No. 5 singles. Not to be outdone, the Bulls girls entered the week 6-1. Freshman Hannah Still and sophomore Amber Farhner were unbeaten at No. 1 and 2 singles, respectively.
(random notes from the 2008 season)
Seems Land O'Lakes' boys collectively hit the books better than a backhand. Considering five of the top 10 players are in the International Baccalaureate program, that's nothing to be ashamed of. Here are the five IB students and their future plans, according to coach Jennifer Hitchman:
• Senior Billy Mo, Sr., No. 1: has been accepted to NYU
• Ryan Bernosky, Sr., No. 2: attending USF in the fall for engineering
• Alex Wang, Fr., No. 6: still plenty of time to decide
• Frankie Beaulieu, Sr., No. 7: choosing between USF and Florida
• Andrew McIntosh, Sr., No. 10: accepted to several schools, but still undecided
• • •
If recent dual matches are any indication, the 2A-6 boys tournament could be wide open. This week alone, Nature Coast defeated Wiregrass Ranch, but was shut out by Hernando. The Leopards, in turn, dropped a 4-3 decision Thursday to Wiregrass Ranch.