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Pulliam claims top honor again

Nothing in the district could stop Tracy Pulliam. Nobody in the county could do it, either. It took a 3,300-pound hunk of steel to knock her off the tennis court. Now Pulliam can't retrieve the simplest of drop shots after her foot was run over by a car Wednesday, leaving her with a badly bruised foot and dependent on crutches.

Before the accident, she steamrolled her Hillsborough County competition, and even came within one game of reaching the Class 4A state finals. Playing No. 1 singles for Chamberlain, Pulliam cruised to a 13-2 record, while the Chiefs ran their three-year winning streak to 41-0.

For her efforts, Pulliam is the St. Petersburg Times' Player of the Year for the second year in a row. And with her senior year still to come, a "three-peat" is not out of the question.

"She's not cocky, you know, and she has a right to be," Chamberlain coach Alicia Palaez said. "But she's not cocky at all _ she's pretty critical of herself."

Joining Pulliam on the All-County first team is teammate Nimisha Gokaldas, who had a 30-0 regular-season record in three years and capped her senior year with the No. 2 singles district title.

Rounding out the list are Leslie Frank of Berkeley Prep, Mami Hara of Gaither and Tu Mai of the Academy of Holy Names. Mai handed Pulliam her only regular-season loss, 0-6, 7-5, 6-4, midway through the season.

But it didn't faze Pulliam. After that, she went on a roll. For the remainder of the regular season, she didn't give up a single set.

The District 4 tournament was a mere formality. Pulliam flattened her competition, losing two games in three matches en route to the final. For emphasis, Pulliam beat Becky Dee of Lakeland 6-0, 6-0 in the championship round. Dee was the defending champion and had extended Pulliam to three sets at the beginning of the season.

In the state tournament, she drew the top seed in the first round for the second year in a row. And for the second straight year, she pulled a major upset. After losing the first set 6-0 to Miami Killian's Daniele Kovaleski, Pulliam came back to win the next two 6-2, 6-4.

Later that day, in the semifinals against Seminole's Monica Kervandjian, Pulliam blew a 5-2 third-set lead when she developed leg cramps. Kervandjian eventually won 6-2, 5-7, 7-5.

"I could not move two feet to either side," Pulliam said. "It started in my calves and then it went to my feet and then up my back. There was just so much pain everywhere. It was very disappointing."

Although the high school season is over, Pulliam hadn't planned to stay off the tennis court.

Instead, she and coach Billy Stearns of Bardmoor tennis center were working hard to prepare her for the State Closed Junior Championships in Fort Lauderdale later this month. Currently ranked 32nd in the state in girls 18s, Pulliam hoped to improve her ranking there.

But Pulliam was joking around in the parking lot after school when the car ran over her foot.

"I was running from someone and then I stopped, and a friend of mine just accidentally ran over my foot," Pulliam said.

"I'm not mad, just disappointed, because I've been working so hard for state and now it's kind of pointless."

All-county girls tennis

Player of the Year:

Tracy Pulliam, Chamberlain

Coach of the Year:

Karen Haag, Gaither

First team

Name School Yr.

Tracy Pulliam Chamberlain Jr.

Tu Mai Acad. of Holy Names So.

Nimisha Gokaldas Chamberlain Sr.

Leslie Frank Berkeley Prep Fr.

Mami Hara Gaither Jr.

Second team

Name School Yr.

Berry Blankinship Berkeley Prep Fr.

Stephanie Borkmam Bloomingdale Jr.

Rachel Bako Chamberlain Jr.

Kamila Bosek King Sr.

Lauren Osterweil Berkeley Prep Jr.

Honorable mention

Academy of Holy Names

Kristine Cansdale; Bloomingdale _ Carrie Daks; Chamberlain _ Marissa Glover; Gaither _ Jennifer Howze; Plant _ Margaret Knight.

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