In nine seasons as St. Petersburg Catholic's girls coach, Brett Hayman has never assembled a squad as talented as this season's. The Barons return every starter from a team that placed fourth at the 2A state tournament, the best of any county team. Add to the mix incoming freshman Julia Jones, who will challenge last year's top player Alyssa Bellini at No. 1 singles.
"We have everybody back with another year of experience," Hayman said. "I think it's going to be a really interesting, fun year."
Jones is ranked No. 3 in the state in the 14 and under age group by the USTA and has tremendous potential according to Hayman.
"She has no weaknesses, only strengths across the board," he said. "Her serve is textbook. All of her strokes are beautiful."
Behind Bellini and Jones, Jerica Coley, the county's leading scorer in basketball, and Danielle Nickerson, a standout setter on the volleyball team, will battle for the No. 3 singles spot. Molly Smith, another multi-sport athlete, takes over at No. 5 after winning a state title at No. 4 singles last year. In two seasons, Smith is undefeated in regular-season singles. Except for Jones, the top players are all juniors.
Hayman said there is no denying the team's terrific talent: "We have a two-year window where we legitimately have a good chance to win a state championship or at least contend for it."
|Boys players to watch|
|Michael Beiler, Dunedin, Soph.||Talented transfer was district 3A-7 runner-up playing for Tarpon Springs last season.|
|Luke Burton, St. Pete Cath., Soph.||Injured for part of last season, Burton rocketed from No. 5 to the Barons' top singles spot.|
|Ed Corty, St. Petersburg, Soph.||Spent part of the year at No. 1 singles for region finalist Green Devils.|
|Ryan Frazier, Osceola, Senior||Won a district title last season and qualified for state tournament in singles and doubles.|
|Dan Lang, Seminole, Junior||Seminole's No. 1 has made significant improvement according to Warhawks coach Craig Corry.|
|Robby Nichols, Lakewood, Senior||Top contender for a district title in 3A-8|
|Alex Saltiel, Shorecrest, 8th grade||Stuck behind Betsirakis in the Chargers lineup but could play No. 1 for most county teams.|
|Ricky Symanski, CCC, Sophomore||Will challenge Betsarakis for the A-10 district title.|
Last year was a banner season for the Shorecrest boys. For the first time, the Chargers advanced as a team to the state tournament. Freshman Garrett Betsarakis exploded onto the scene to finish undefeated through the region tournament and earn our player of the year award. A fifth-place finish in the finals, however, had the Chargers feeling a bit empty after their monumental season.
"A majority of our players don't have a lot of tournament experience," Betsarakis said. "I don't know if that was a factor at states. I think this year they have more of a feel for what it's like. I think we'll be a little better prepared this year."
Betsarakis, ranked No. 10 in the state in the 16 and under age group, is a regular on the USTA junior tournament circuit and has been for years. So is Alex Salteil, the No. 2 singles player. Beyond the top two, however, the Chargers are green. Talented but untested. Betsarakis hopes last year's tourney run can pay dividends this season.
"All of our guys really worked hard over the summer and they've been improving," he said. "I think they got a little inspired from going to states last year and they want to go back."
|Girls players to watch|
|Morgan Basil, Shorecrest, Junior||A Times first team all county performer the past two seasons.|
|Emily Dvorak, St. Petersburg, Sophomore||Dvorak and Agatha Ambrozy are perhaps the best 1-2 singles punch in the county.|
|Julianne Gruber, Calvary Christian, Soph.||Has the talent to take Calvary deep into the playoffs.|
|Lindsay Hodgdon, Gibbs, Junior||Led Gladiators to their first district title (3A-8) and earned a berth in the state tournament.|
|Kara Kucin, Clearwater Central Catholic, Sr.||Marshall commit has won at least one match at state tournament past two seasons.|
|Amy Lowther, Seminole, Freshman||One of several highly-skilled freshmen entering the ranks.|
|Laura Ospina, East Lake, Sophomore||Earned the top singles spot as a freshman and led team to state finals last year.|
|Shaunte Southern, Palm Harbor U., Soph.||With a year's experience, Southern should challenge for a district title.|