ST. PETERSBURG — To say the St. Petersburg Catholic girls tennis team has been beating opponents doesn't accurately reflect the level of their domination.
Mauling seems more appropriate.
In waltzing through the regular season undefeated and qualifying for its third straight Class 2A state tournament — first-round action for the Barons begins Wednesday at Red Bug Lake Park — SPC has yet to play anyone close to its level this season. The Barons, who did not lose more than one match at any competition this season, have rarely been challenged.
The state tournament, however, has a habit of exposing the flaws in good teams.
"The step up in competition to the state tournament is pretty severe," Barons coach Brett Hayman said. "But, our girls are not going to be intimidated."
Of the Barons' top five singles players, only one — Molly Smith at No. 5 singles — lost a regular-season match. Julia Jones (No. 1 singles), Jerica Coley (3), Danielle Nickerson (4) and Smith (5) all rolled through the region competition, winning their singles matches at love.
The Barons, sans Jones, finished fourth at state the past two seasons, highlighted by Smith winning the No. 4 singles bracket last year. Six of the eight state finalists from last season return, including defending champ American Heritage and Naples, a team the Barons defeated 6-1 during the regular season.
With Jones headlining SPC's lineup, the Barons feel a state title is within reach.
"Molly showed the girls that they can win. She won the title at No. 4 and she's playing No. 5," Hayman said. "I think the girls know that they can play with anybody."
Other teams vying for state titles:
Seminole girls: Seminole's best hope for points will come from the top of its lineup, where freshman No. 1 singles player Amy Lowther has the ability to make a deep run. The Warhawks' No. 2, Tara Lynn Carey, won her bracket at district and is undefeated in the postseason. She combines with Lowther to give the Warhawks a formidable top doubles team.
Seminole boys: The Warhawks return to the state tournament, where they won just one match last season — Alex Schultz defeated his opponent from Seabreeze in the No. 4 singles bracket (Schultz plays No. 2 singles this season). Seminole wouldn't be here if not for its No. 2 doubles team of Tyler Bennion and Adam Norris, who were down a break at 5-3 in the third set but rallied to win four straight games in the last match of the region final against Dunedin.
Shorecrest boys: Garrett Betsarakis, Shorecrest's top player, made it all the way to the final of the No. 1 singles bracket last season before falling in a third-set tiebreaker. He will try to win it all this year. Matt Smith, at No. 2, was the only other Shorecrest player to record a point as the team finished in a fifth-place tie with three points. Smith won his first-round singles match at No. 3 last year.
Michael Beiler, Dunedin: Avenged a loss to Ryan Frazier (Osceola) in last season's 3A-7 final by beating Frazier 6-1, 6-3 this year.
Robbie Nichols, Lakewood: Senior with exceptional court coverage. Nichols played No. 1 two seasons ago when Lakewood advanced to state as a team.
Morgan Basil, Shorecrest: Basil advanced to the semifinals of the No. 1 singles bracket in 2007.
Emily Dvorak, St. Petersburg: Dvorak will play her first singles match at state thanks to a 6-3, 6-4 win over highly ranked Erin Snook at the district tournament.
Lindsay Hodgdon, Gibbs: Hodgdon is hoping for better luck this go-round after getting blanked in the first round last year.
Robbie Nichols/Nick Voce, Lakewood: Defeated Northeast's Trevor Van Lede-Zinn and Kyle Simon 6-2, 6-1 to qualify.
Michael Beiler/Admir Tabak, Dunedin: Beiler and Tabak were straight-sets winners in the 3A-7 final.
Luke Burton/Brad Carver, St. Petersburg Catholic: Two players that have made tremendous strides. Burton was the Barons' No. 5 last season and Carver didn't start.
Laura Ospina/Raquel Moya, East Lake: East Lake failed to advance as a team after making state the past three seasons. Ospina and Moya are the Eagles' lone participants.
Jibri Bailey/Dianeka Perrien, Gibbs: Gibbs seniors looking to close out career on top.
Morgan Basil/Kathryn Komarnicki, Shorecrest: Komarnicki is making her first appearance at the state tournament.
Emily Dvorak/Agatha Ambrozy, St. Petersburg: Last season, Dvorak teamed with her sister Lindsay to win the individual doubles bracket at state.