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Bessoni's return a boost for Lecanto

Hernando High transfer Jimmy Bessoni _ once eligible, then not, and now eligible again _ returned to the courts Tuesday as an official Lecanto Panther.

Last week, Bessoni was declared ineligible by the Florida High School Activities Association. It was more a clerical error by Lecanto than a deliberate attempt to sneak the promising Bessoni onto a tennis team that may be a district favorite.

Lecanto athletic director Dick Slack takes the blame. According to Slack, he never filled out the right form, referred to as a blue waiver, that would have allowed Bessoni to be eligible after he moved from one divorced parent in Brooksville to the other in Lecanto.

"I filled out the wrong papers, and it was my fault," Slack said.

The right papers were filled out and resent, and on Friday the FHSAA ruled that Bessoni could play again.

The penalty? Well, Lecanto has to forfeit every point that Bessoni has earned so far this season. The No. 2 singles player and No. 1 doubles player had picked up some key points in key matches, so the loss of those led directly to a pair of after-the-fact losses by the Panthers. A 3-3 tie with Belleview is now a 4-2 loss, and a 5-2 win over Hernando has become a 4-3 loss.

The win-then-loss to Hernando is ironic, considering that Bessoni was the No. 1 player for the Leopards last year.

"And they're the ones that turned us in," said coach Laura Flanagan.

Bessoni missed the Richardson Cup doubles tournament and one match because of the FHSAA problems, and Lecanto lost it 6-1 last Friday to Ocala Forest. "If we had Jimmy back for them, it would have been different," Flanagan said. "It was a real letdown when Jimmy couldn't play."

Bessoni was relieved to learn that the points he had to forfeit won't count as losses, which would have destroyed his seeding at the district tournament. "That was his biggest concern," Flanagan said.

Instead, Bessoni starts clean with Tuesday's match versus Citrus at 0-0.

"I'm glad he's back," Flanagan said. "I still feel we can go all the way at districts and go on to state."

HOLME SWEET HOLME: Another team boosted by a player's return has been Crystal River, which recently got back John Holme.

He had been absent while sorting out some personal things, and his return for the March 4 Lecanto match has sparked the Pirates to a 4-1 run (6-3 overall).

Holme plays No. 3 singles and No. 2 doubles, and has been a good bet to score at least one point each match he has been back.

"His return has been huge," said coach Russell Allen, who has been playing his players out of position for most of the season. "He got right back in it and matches we were losing before we are now winning."

Crystal River also has been bolstered by the improved play of Bernard Torralba. The No. 1 singles and doubles player beat Citrus' Brad King last week, even though the junior was disappointed Ryan Slattery was held from the match because it didn't count in the conference.

"He took it as a slight, and lost the first set," Allen said. "But he came back."

The loss was only King's third in two seasons.

NEW DISTRICT II: Citrus didn't like its old district. Chances are, opponents aren't going to like its new one.

Both Hurricane teams started out 2-0 in the district with wins over Gulf and Land O'Lakes. Gulf was a walkover, but the Gator girls were 12-3 last year and expected to give Citrus a challenge. They didn't in a 5-1 loss.

It was worse for the Gator boys. Playing pro sets, Citrus swept 7-0 and outscored Land O'Lakes 40-5 in singles and 16-2 in doubles.