Seminole High's girls team has established a winning tradition.
The Warhawks won district titles and advanced to state championships in 1991 and 1994-98. For the last two years, the team has finished third at state.
This year, led by juniors Lori Grey and Lauren Scaglione and sophomore Nicole Cercone in the top three singles positions, third-year coach Rich Lally is looking for a stronger finish at this week's Class 5A state competition in Lakeland.
"I told the girls this season to take care of business," said Lally. "They should win the conference, win districts and give it their best at state. I think we can do better this year."
Last year, Grey at No. 2 and Nicole Cercone at No. 4 were state singles finalists and Grey teamed with older sister Christa to win the No. 1 doubles. Scaglione and Cercone were finalists at No. 2.
This year, Lori Grey at No. 1, Scaglione at No. 2 and Cercone at No. 3 were unbeaten in singles, as are Grey and Scaglione in No. 1 doubles and Cercone and Jodi Berman at No. 2.
"I'm always motivated for the high school state tournament," said Grey, a top-ranked junior at the state and national levels. "As a team, we've never won at state, but I think we have a chance this year."
Grey, who was more serious about gymnastics than tennis until she was 10 years old, is unbeaten in her three years on the team.
Scaglione, an aggressive baseline players, won a state championship at No. 3 as a freshman and also has been unbeaten her three years on the team.
"I started tennis when I was 8 years old at the Presti Tennis Center with Mr. (Lou) Presti," said the 17-year old. "I'm really proud to be on this team. It's so nice to play tennis, have fun and socialize with the team. We're all pretty close."
Cercone, whose mother Maria is a well-known tennis-teaching professional in the area, grew up around the tennis courts. Cercone says focus has been her major obstacle _ despite being undefeated _ and likes to go for her shots from the baseline, approaching the net only when necessary.
Berman, 16, expects to play better this year at state in No. 4 than the sophomore did last year at No. 5.
"I don't get nervous when I play," said Berman. "I play for fun and I'm generally playing better this year. I love being on the team and the attention we get as well as the closeness of our team. With the play of Lori, Lauren and Nicole, it takes pressure off me."
Sophomore Ashley Daniels agrees with Berman, even though this is her first trip to state.
"Being on this team certainly gives you a lot of competition to live up to," said Daniels. "But, being on this team has sparked my interest in tennis."
Seminole's girls will be joined by the boys at state. Joel Berman, Lou Scaglione, Edward Christner, Mark Rosenhoch and Aaren Kitenplon are the top five players. Berman and Scaglione play No. 1 doubles and Christner and Rosenhoch pair up for No. 2.
"It's great how the team came together and fought back to win districts," said Berman, who easily won all his playoff matches in spite of a shoulder injury incurred on a trampoline. "Everyone stepped up their play. I think we have a shot at state."