ALTAMONTE SPRINGS — Staying in St. Petersburg instead of returning to Brooklyn wasn't an easy decision for Akilah James after her scholarship for a semester at IMG Boliterri Tennis Academy expired last spring.
But it was the only one.
Hoping to hone her skills year-round in warm weather, James enrolled at Gibbs and made that decision pay off, leading the Gladiators on an improbable run to the state tournament, culminating Thursday when she captured the Class 3A No. 1 singles championship at Sanlando Park.
James won 6-3, 6-7 (5-7), 6-1 over Wiregrass Ranch's Sarah Means in a grueling, action-filled three-hour, 11-minute marathon.
"I didn't get tired; when you want something bad enough you just keep doing it until you get it," said James, who picked up a scholarship offer from Broward College right after her match.
James used her powerful forehand and relentless baseline pounding to wear down Means.
The senior, who continues to get better each match, has lost only twice this season, both times in lopsided fashion to Northeast's Danielle Collins, including at the district tournament. She'll get one more try in today's overall No. 1 championship to beat the country's top-rated under-18 player, after Collins won the individual side of the bracket (for district champions whose teams did not advance) by steamrolling Chamberlain's Nicole Mera 6-0, 6-2 and Pensacola Washington's Patricia Izbicki 6-0, 6-1.
Collins is coming off a week away from tennis to let some minor injuries heal and preparing for a juniors tournament in Jacksonville this weekend.
"(Akilah) is very aggressive, pretty mart and very strong," Collins said. "I think we're going to have a good match."
A: SPC girls nab runnerup spot
CASSELBERRY — The St. Petersburg Catholic girls needed everything to break their way, and maybe even a little luck, to finish second at the Class A championships at Red Bug Lake Park.
With two matches left to play, SPC's Julia Jones and Jerica Coley had to win their No. 1 doubles final against Ransom Everglades' Jamie Yapp-Shing and Allegra Hanlon. And the Barons had to hope for Miami Ransom Everglades' No. 2 doubles squad to lose in its final to gain a tie for second.
While the first set in both matches went against the Barons, Ransom Everglades lost in three sets at No. 2 doubles, and shortly after, Jones and Coley rallied to win 6-7 (7-4) 6-2, 6-2 to secure the Barons' silver medal.
SPC and Ransom Everglades each finished with nine points. Delray Beach American Heritage had 17 points for the team title.
"When I saw Ransom lose at No. 2 doubles, I knew it was up to us," Jones said. "We wanted second place."
Coley's net play and Jones' all-around game has the Barons' duo playing for the overall doubles championship at 12:30 p.m. today. The two won 6-1, 6-1 in a semifinal against opponents from Gainesville P.K. Yonge
The Barons thought they had clinched second earlier in the day in the No. 2 doubles semifinal. Danielle Nickerson and Molly Smith came back from a set down to win the second set and take a 5-4 lead into the third against P.K. Yonge. The match was seemingly over when P.K. Yonge double faulted on match point, but a line judge ruled the ball was in and awarded the point to P.K. Yonge. The Barons had one more match point but lost 6-2, 4-6, 7-6 (7-4).
Barons No. 4 Molly Smith lost her bid to win a second singles title, falling 7-5, 6-2 to American Heritage's Mia Horvit.
American Heritage also won the boys team title. Shorecrest (two points) finished in a tie for seventh with First Academy.
Bryan Burns, staff writer