TAMPA — The Wharton boys tennis team made history last season by becoming the first Hillsborough County team to win back-to-back team state titles. But as the Wildcats continue to chase history, this might be Wharton's best team yet.
Wharton's top three singles players — No. 1 Michael Alford, No. 2 Ben Hwang and No. 3 Rohit Navelkar — return after winning state singles titles last year. The trio didn't drop a singles match all year.
"It's just unbelievable," coach Marcie Scholl said. "I think we're going to be stronger than last year. Our top three are a year older and wiser."
Add in sophomore newcomer John Ho, who Scholl said will be a four-star recruit, and the Wildcats appear poised to become the first boys tennis team to claim three straight titles in 35 years. Lakewood won from 1973-75 when there was just one classification.
"It's very exciting, but I don't want pressure on our guys," Scholl said. "Anyone can win every single day. They're all very smart so they have to be focused on playing their best."
Wharton's success, however, begins and ends with Alford, a five-star recruit who has signed to play at the University of Florida and could leave as the most successful player in program history. He claimed the No. 1 individual and doubles titles last season. He is ranked No. 62 in the nation and 10th in Florida among USTA U-18 players.
As a captain, Scholl said she will depend on Alford to tutor the young players; six of the team's 10 are freshmen and sophomores.
"He's the captain so I'm looking to him for leadership," Scholl said. "He's a wonderful role model for three freshmen. He's going to show them how to play the game with class and how to play the game right."