This has been some week for Nicole D'Anna.
On Tuesday, the senior overcame four years of futility and finally defeated Nola Rasper of county rival Hernando at No. 3 singles to help Central win its first-ever district title. The win set up Friday's match against Lecanto in the North IV Regional meet where D'Anna again was on center stage.
Earlier, Central's top seeds, twins Tammy and Stephanie Beaulieu, pasted their opponents without giving up a game. Tammy defeated Maggie Lamparelli 6-0, 6-0 and Stephanie beat Kate Jendro by the same score. All the while, D'Anna battled Lecanto's Andrea Vicente in a match that went on for nearly two and a half hours. In that time, No. 4 Sarah Williams disposed of Mujiba Ansari in a marathon 6-3, 1-6, 6-3 match and Lecanto's Sarah Bassing knocked off Dawn Wilson 6-2, 6-1.
Central led 3-1 as D'Anna and Vicente continued to duel. A win by D'Anna would clinch the match for Central. All the players huddled along the outside fence of the court exchanging cheers as D'Anna and Vicente exchanged the lead. Just after 6 p.m., D'Anna smashed a winner down the line and threw her arms into the air as she claimed victory for the Bears with a 7-6, 4-6, 6-4 win.
The No. 2 doubles match had not concluded by press time, but Central had clinched the right to move on to state with a 5-1 lead, with the Beaulieus combining to win their doubles match 6-3, 6-1 over Lamparelli and Jendro. The state seedings will be announced Tuesday and play begins Wednesday in Lakeland.
As D'Anna's match rolled on, she was aware her team needed a win from her to clinch. She was also aware a loss could have closed the book on her playing career without a trip to state (a moot point after the Beaulieus' win).
"I wanted it so bad," D'Anna said with tears in her eyes. "After that match with Hernando, I felt I could beat anybody."
3A-North IV: Saddlebook moves on
WESLEY CHAPEL _ The Saddlebrook girls didn't expect to face any desperate situations during Friday's match against Lakeland Christian, but during the final doubles match there it was _ pressure.
Could Jennifer Mitchell and Ashlee Callahan finish in time for Mitchell to make her 3 p.m. hair and make-up appointment?
Whipping through their opposition, Mitchell and Callahan panicked but finished in time to get ready for prom, and finished off a 7-0 win to advance to Tuesday's Class 3A state tournament in Gainesville.
Mitchell and Callahan, who won at No. 1 and 2 singles respectively, beat Lakeland Christian's Jamie Chan and Hillary Langston 8-2 in a pro-set doubles match. The Spartan girls dropped just 13 games, eight by Mitchell in her 7-5, 6-3 singles win over Chan. _ JOHN C. COTEY
3A-South I: Knights eliminated
TAMPA _ River Ridge's season ended with a 7-0 defeat at the hands of Plant. The way coach Steve Swenson looks at it, that's nothing to be ashamed of. After all, it was the ending to the best season in school history. Not to mention the opposition, the most formidable public school River Ridge has seen.
"Plant was absolutely the toughest team we've played _ no question," Swenson said.
The closest matches were at No. 2 singles and No. 1 doubles. Sophomore Kerri Goldberg put up a fight against Plant freshman Paula Fillion before falling 6-3, 6-4. Later, Goldberg teamed with Mariena Deeb to nearly beat Plant's tandem of Leslie Rosen and Erin Resnick in a 6-4, 7-5 finish.
While the other matches weren't as close, Swenson liked his team's competitiveness.
"Even though we lost most of the points, we had a lot of good volleys," he said. _ CHRIS ROTAR