Even after the face-lift that was given to high school tennis before the season, few Hillsborough County coaches, players or pundits could have envisioned this: five teams from the county are headed to the state tournament.
Bloomingdale's girls, Plant City's boys and King's girls will be newcomers at state, which seems fitting in a season that saw the realignment of districts and the inception of a regional playoff. Plant's girls and Jesuit's boys, meanwhile, are headed for return visits.
The three first-timers will compete at the 6A tournament in Gainesville on Thursday and Friday. Plant will play in the 5A tournament in Lakeland on Monday and Tuesday. Jesuit will play in the 4A tournament, also in Lakeland, on Wednesday and Thursday.
6A-North III boys
PLANT CITY _ The Raiders boys won the school's first trip to state with a 6-1 win over Melbourne.
After winning four singles and putting the tournament out of reach, the Melbourne coach forfeited both doubles matches.
Bobby Krueger started Plant City off by defeating Caleb Michaud 6-2, 6-0 in the No. 2 match. Garrett Norman won for the Raiders at No. 4 and Rob Galloway won at No. 5. Both won in straight sets.
The No. 3 match turned into a three-hour marathon before Plant City's Sunil Devarakonda pulled out a 4-6, 6-4, 7-5 win over David Conn.
"I am so happy, I can hardly believe it," Devarakonda said. "My legs were cramping up and I hurt my ankle, but I wanted the team to go to state. This is amazing, we are all going to state for the first time for the school."
David Jayson is the fifth player making the trip with the Raiders. The No. 1 dropped a 6-3, 6-2 match to Shane Harrison.
6A-North III girls
VALRICO _ Bloomingdale's girls earned their first state trip with a 6-1 victory over Melbourne Palm Bay.
With wins by No. 1 player Lisa Carlock, No. 2 Aida Kuri, number three Kyley Foster and number five Alicia Wiley, the Bulls won the meet in singles.
Palm Bay coach Linda Hemenway forfeited both doubles matches, giving the Bulls two additional wins.
Carlock, a junior, was a major factor as she was in the districts, where she had already earned her berth at state with two upset victories to capture the singles district title.
Friday, Carlock defeated Palm Bay's Anna Varlamov at No. 1 6-4, 6-4.
"This is all very exciting, but this has been a whole team effort," Carlock said. "Districts and regionals are the first meets the whole team has been together at the same time. One or another has been sick or hurt. We are all looking forward to the state tournament."
Osa Winter, the Bulls' No. 4, is the fifth player going to state. She dropped a hard-fought 6-4, 6-4 match to Mary Truong.
6A-North IV girls
After playing within the county all season, the Lions got their first taste of a real road trip. They liked it so much they'll do it again _ this time north to Gainesville.
"It was okay," King coach Carole Pressick said of the nearly three-hour ride to Naples. "But then, if we had lost, I might've said something different."
Pressick couldn't help but be in a good mood after the way the Lions played against Barron Collier. For the most part, the matches were not close.
At No. 1, Tiffany Pinciotti rebounded from an upset in the district tournament to soundly defeat BC's Page Eber 6-2, 6-0.
"Tiffany was back on her game," Pressick said. "She went out there and played flawless tennis."
At No. 4, Caroline Tien rolled 6-0, 6-2. Lauren Keller (No. 5) won her match 6-3, 6-3. The day's only three-setter was at No. 3, where Brooke Leitch beat BC's Kim Joy 4-6, 6-2, 6-1. King's only loss was at No. 2, where Marie Kennett fell 6-3, 6-3.
6A-North IV boys
Strength at the bottom of the lineup helped the Lions get to the regional playoff. After all, King won district titles at No. 2, No. 3, No. 4 and No. 5 singles.
But on Friday, Riverview beat King by sweeping the bottom three spots in the lineup and taking both doubles matches. Ironically, the only Lion not to win a district title kept King's hopes alive.
Senior George Tsai rebounded after losing the first set 7-5 to defeat Dean Dubois in the next two. Tsai won the second set 6-2, then had to stave off match point three times to win the third 7-6 (9-7).
Tsai's win forced doubles play. Tsai and his brother, Andy, lost a pair of heartbreakers 7-5, 7-6 (7-5), and Riverview coasted at No. 2.
Andy Tsai got King's other victory, 6-3, 6-0 over Marc Bernstein at No. 2.
5A-South I girls
Sometimes experience isn't all it's cracked up to be. Like in Plant's 7-0 win over River Ridge at HCC.
The Panthers, a team with just one senior _ No. 1 Leslie Rosen _ rolled past a squad of four seniors and one sophomore.
"I'm extremely proud of this team," Plant coach Andy Hann said. "Even though we're young, we've got a lot of talent to overcome it."
The youngest Panther, No. 2 Paula Fillion, met River Ridge's youngest player, Kerri Goldberg, in the most competitive match. Fillion won 6-3, 6-4.
The veteran Rosen played what her coach called one of her best matches ever in a 6-0, 6-0 win over Mariena Deeb. Goldberg and Deeb nearly got revenge in doubles against Rosen and Erin Resnick, but fell 6-4, 7-5.
"I'm just going to tell the girls to stay loose," Hann said. "Our goal was to reach state. The rest is just icing on the cake.
4A-South II boys
For Jesuit, the easy part _ that being the 7-0 regional win over Lake Gibson _ is behind it. The task ahead of the Tigers, however, truly is Herculean _ that being unseating Fort Lauderdale Cardinal Gibbons as the state champion.
Cardinal Gibbons has won three consecutive state titles, and Jesuit, last year's runner-up, is perhaps the state's best hope at ending that streak.
"If everybody is playing up to their potential, maybe we could have a chance," Jesuit coach Joe Curtis said. "We'll just have to see how good Cardinal Gibbons is this year."
One thing is for sure: In Lakeland, the going will be much rougher than it was at Hillsborough Community College Friday. The Tigers won every match in straight sets.
The closest matches came in doubles play. The No. 1 team of Andrew Laflin and Taylor Ralph defeated Lake Gibson's Robby Hidayat and Jason Jones 8-4. At No. 2, Jesuit's Sebring Sierra and Richard Sola beat Danny Hidayat and Jonathan Allen 8-5.
The nearest a Lake Gibson opponent got in singles was Allen's 6-4, 6-1 loss to Sola at No. 4.
"We cruised pretty well, but we want to win a state title," Curtis said.
_ Times Correspondent Terry Jones contributed to this report.