LAND O'LAKES — There's a relative order to the Pasco County tennis landscape, and it starts with Wiregrass Ranch. Land O'Lakes sits right behind the Bulls, who have dealt both the Gator boys and girls their only defeat this season.
So with district tournaments next week and two teams advancing to regions, the logical step would be projecting the Gators to move on.
But that would be trying to predict the Class 3A, District 9 tournament. And that looks to be a foolhardy endeavor.
The first-time mix of four Pasco County teams and six Hillsborough squads is the start to the uncertainty, but it extends to the playing surface, the upcoming draw — and Wiregrass missing its top two boys.
Play starts Monday morning at Hillsborough Community College. But first comes what should be an eventful seeding meeting Friday afternoon.
"It really will be the luck of the draw," Gators boys coach Jasalyn Gerazounis said.
"It will be difficult to argue for your player (seeding) because Pasco County schools only face other Pasco schools during the season, Hillsborough teams play each other, and never the two shall meet."
Three of the 10 players in each bracket will earn a seed based on rankings. Then it's up for grabs. The fourth-best player could get drawn against the No. 1 seed while the fifth-best could get an easier opponent and a better chance to earn a team point.
Land O'Lakes girls coach Karen Turman, the district tournament director, spent Wednesday writing players' names on tennis balls. Yes, that's how the draw will be conducted.
Then the fun really begins. Wiregrass Ranch, Land O'Lakes, Mitchell and Sunlake are the Pasco squads with Hillsborough's Chamberlain, Freedom, Gaither, Middleton, Robinson and Spoto.
But they won't be alone. Two other districts will hold their tournaments at the same time. And 3A-8 (an all-Hillsborough district) got dibs on the hard courts, putting the Pasco teams on clay. Pasco County teams never play on clay.
"I was able to get them out there for one practice day last week, and the response from the girls was, 'What? It isn't red?' " Turman said. "No, this is not the red clay of Paris. Clay is a whole new thing. They don't know how to slide on it."
Fortunately for the Gators, their No. 1 player does. Kayva Avancha has played in several tournaments and gave her teammates — Nos. 2-5 Deneen Wang, Sophie Pawlak, Anne Schwartz and Joslyn LaFond — some pointers. Avancha's focus is on earning a rematch with Brianna Miah. Wiregrass' No. 1 barely topped Avancha 7-5, 2-6, 6-4 recently.
"I was a little nervous at first," Avancha said. "And I still had her 5-4, 30-0 in the first set before I lost it. I definitely want to play her again."
Land O'Lakes visits Pasco in a tuneup today. Pasco lost 4-3 to Wiregrass earlier this season.
The Gator boys — David Dollbaum, Albert Xing, Christopher Mo, Eric Lee and Jeffrey Gu — are "athletic and well-rounded enough" to Gerazounis that playing on clay isn't a major issue. Lee and Gu are undefeated.
Whatever the team scores, the No. 1 singles and doubles champions advance to the state tournament. Mitchell's Daniel Lukish, who won a three-setter against Dollbaum on Tuesday, is certainly a candidate.
Mitchell coach Jamie Hinmon was able to plead her case to the YMCA of Palm Harbor, which has two clay courts. The Mustangs got in two days of work on the surface.
Wiregrass would be the hands-down favorite to win the boys title if Augie Moreno and Pedro Fernandez weren't playing in Panama. Meantime, starting Thursday, the whole Bulls squad is in a national team event in Louisville, Ky., and will to return Sunday night.
"And we go right to districts Monday," coach David Wilson said. "If we can get through districts, we're in good shape with everyone back for regionals. On the plus side, we have a pretty deep team."