ALTAMONTE SPRINGS — The Wharton boys tennis team advanced two doubles teams to the finals at the 2007 state tournament and needed only one of them to win to claim the championship. Both came up short and the Wildcats lost by a point.
"We," Wharton senior Mitch Wong said, "blew it."
The loss stung, but at the same time it also motivated. And a year later, faced with a similar set of circumstances, the Wildcats finished the job.
Ahead by two points in the Class 3A standings when the day began, Wharton fought off charges from Ponte Vedra Beach Nease and Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas on Thursday and clinched the program's first state championship with a win in the No. 2 doubles final by Wong and Alex Bartholomew.
"I really felt good," Wildcats coach Marcie Scholl said. "I've seen our boys in action."
The county had others who also fared well.
The Plant girls, who arrived with modest expectations, were the 3A runnersup to St. Thomas Aquinas. And in individual play, two locals — Chamberlain's Jamie Mera and Plant's Joel Samaha — won championships and advanced to today's overall singles finals. Mera and her doubles partner, Jen Miller, also are alive in the doubles bracket and need two more victories to become overall champions.
Plant finished with nine points to St. Thomas Aquinas' 18. The Panthers began the day two points back but earned only one win Thursday, which came from Amber Li and Solange La Puente at No. 1 doubles.
Mera and Samaha were sharp as each won twice. The title is Mera's second. She also reached the overall finals as a freshman before losing. Samaha claimed his bracket by holding off Newsome standout Andy Hersh 5-7, 6-1, 6-3 in one of the day's most entertaining matches. Mera and Miller also went 2-0, and did so without dropping a set.
With three singles and two doubles teams still competing entering play Thursday, Wharton felt comfortable. But in singles, only Rohit Navelkar (No. 4) won his final, which left Wharton tied with St. Thomas Aquinas entering doubles play. A win by Wong and Bartholomew in the semifinals meant the Wildcats could finish no worse than tied for first. But at 2:26 p.m., the duo put the finishing touches on a championship effort with a 6-2, 6-0 victory as Wharton edged Nease by a point.