SPRING HILL — For the first time in program history, the Nature Coast girls are headed to the state tournament thanks to a Class 2A, Region 3 victory over Wiregrass Ranch on Thursday.
Playing at Delta Woods Park, the Sharks knocked off the Bulls 5-2, helped in large part by an upset singles victory by No. 2 Olivia Williams.
Williams defeated district champion Hannah Still in a marathon match that lasted more then two and a half hours, 4-6, 6-2, 7-6 (7-3). The contest went three sets and a third-set tiebreaker before Williams emerged to give Nature Coast the team point. The win was especially satisfying to Williams, who was coming off of a right shoulder injury.
"After losing the first set, I just focused on fixing my mistakes," Williams said. "I knew if I won the singles (match) it would take a lot of pressure off of us for doubles."
Her prediction came to fruition as she and Rachel Conter combined to win at No. 1 doubles in straight sets over Sidney Simpson and Amber Fahrner 6-2, 6-1. That point clinched the win for Nature Coast and the No. 2 doubles match was suspended.
According to Nature Coast coach Louise Downey, a retired volunteer, athletic director Travis Lamle had told her that the school would only be able to provide transportation to and from the state tournament in Orlando.
Lamle said that he would have to request further funds from the school district. Downey said she would meet with principal Tizzy Schoelles to inquire about more funds for hotels and other expenses.
"Individual sports have paid for their own trips in every case this year," Lamle said.
Class 2A boys: Bulls' postseason run ends
At Lecanto, Wiregrass Ranch's boys encountered a familiar postseason nemesis in the region finals, with a painfully familiar result.
Two days after the first postseason win in their three-year history, the Bulls (13-2) fell 4-0 to Lecanto, calling it a day after falling in straight sets in the first four singles spots.
Sophomore No. 5 player Eric Rivas, the only underclassman in Wiregrass Ranch's singles lineup, fell 7-5 in the first set, but was up 2-1 in the second when Lecanto clinched the win.
"You know, it's the same team we basically played last year," said Bulls coach Dave Wilson, whose team fell 5-2 to the Panthers in the 2008 region semifinals. "They're just a year better than they were last year, a little bit better than our kids."
Joey Knight, Times staff writer