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Twins have helped take Central to highest level _ state

Tammy Beaulieu epitomized Central's season with one motion.

After she crushed her opponent, Lecanto's Maggie Lamparelli, 6-0, 6-0 in the regional final, and twin sister Stephanie also rolled 6-0, 6-0, Tammy walked off the court, raised her palms to the sky and began motioning, Take it to another level.

Certainly the twins have helped take Central's girls tennis program to another level. Today, the Bears continue their history-making season as they travel to George Jenkins High in Lakeland for the state tournament, which runs through Friday.

Before the sophomores began playing for Central this season, the Bears were mired in the bottom of the district. This year, the Bears finished with a winning season (9-0), and won the Gulf Coast Athletic Conference, Class 4A, District 8 and North IV Regional crowns for the first time.

In Friday's 6-1 regional victory alone, the Beaulieus earned Central three wins: two in individual matches and one in doubles. For most of the year they were on different doubles teams and usually brought home four wins. They were undefeated in singles.

"We wanted to put Central on the map," Tammy said. "Tennis, now more than ever, is ready to be noticed as much as football or baseball."

But their effect has shown up in more than just wins. They have revitalized the program and its players with their inspirational play, practice and cheers. As their teammates compete, the twins sit on the sidelines and lead the cheers.

"I think we help them out in pumping them up in playing their best," Stephanie said.

For three years, senior Nicole D'Anna watched as her teammates were dismantled in meets. The courts were quiet as the Bears played the part of sacrificial lamb. But on Friday, as she played a 2{-hour match against Lecanto's No. 3 seed, Andrea Vicente, her teammates cheered from the sidelines until she eventually pulled out a 7-6, 4-6, 6-4 win.

"Nicole and her family have been here every step of the way through the long years when we didn't win any matches," Central coach Joy Greene said.

The same can be said for Sarah Williams, who broke into tears after she defeated Mujiba Ansari 6-3, 1-6, 6-3 in a marathon of her own. Even when Dawn Wilson lost in her match at No. 5, the team was there to offer a supportive shoulder to cry on. It is that team effort, bolstered by the winning attitudes of the twins, that has helped Central to its best season ever.

"I did my part, Steph did her part, but everyone did their part too," Tammy said. "This year, as a team, we've done really awesome."

In the win over Lecanto, Greene was glad to see her other players win to put to rest a stigma that the twins were the only winners.

"I'm glad things have gone our way," Greene said. "Everyone expected Tammy and Steph to win, but with Nos. 3 and 4 winning, that added legitimacy; it kind of solidified everything."

But now the competition stiffens for the Bears. Tammy, ranked No. 22 in the state, and Stephanie are the only ones who have experience against state-caliber players. They regularly see several of those faces during statewide junior tournaments, though now they will be divided by classifications.

This is uncharted territory for the others. Of the rest of the seeds, Williams, playing at No. 4, was 7-1 in the regular season and very well could stand the best chance at winning her matches. Still, this is the time, Greene said, when the twins' experience will need to rub off on their teammates.

But even they expect to be challenged.

"It's state so there are going to be a few good players there," Stephanie said. "People are saying, "You can win state,' but I'm not going to say that until I meet the players."