Angel Deng was a freshman at Countryside the last time she was seen at a high school district tournament.
Deng, named the Tampa Bay Times’ Player of the Year, swept through the regular season undefeated and advanced to the Class 4A state semifinals before bowing out.
That was 2011.
Two years later, Deng is back with a different school enjoying the same results. Now a junior at East Lake, Deng won the No. 1 singles title Wednesday at the McMullen Tennis Center in straight sets over former teammate Alex Kitchen.
Kitchen and Deng were Countryside’s No. 1 doubles team in 2011, also making the state semifinals. Beating Kitchen in this year’s district final was bittersweet.
“I’ve known Alex for about 10 years or so,” Deng said. “I think I played her about three times in USTA matches so far this year. I know how she plays and she knows how I play. We’ve had some good matches.”
Deng took off last high school season to concentrate on USTA events. She decided to play for the Eagles this season and helped lead them to a one-point win over Countryside at the district tournament.
She is ranked the 18th-best player in Florida and 102nd in the nation by tennisrecruiting.net.
Deng will be a key player for East Lake in next week’s regional against Seminole. She’ll likely match up against the Warriors' top player, Cailynn Madsen, in singles, and pair with Madeline Samkutty in No. 1 doubles. After that, she’s off to the state tournament in Altamonte Springs on April 17-19.
Deng has mixed emotions about state. In 2011, she played a long three-set match in the quarterfinal and was out of gas in the semifinals against Joulia Likhanskaia of Winter Park, the eventual state champion.
“I know what to expect now,” Deng said. “Once you get to the state tournament it’s kind of like playing in a USTA tournament. You know all those players.”
Deng will be joined at state by boys teammate Ganesh Rajaram. The junior won his first match at state last year before losing in the quarterfinals.
Unlike Deng, Rajaram and his playing partner, Ryan Hall, won the No. 1 doubles championship at districts and will be playing together at state. Deng and Samkutty will need to win two region rounds to advance.
“It’ll be fun,” Rajaram said. “… I didn’t get to play doubles last year so that will be a new experience. I’ve been looking forward to this since the season started.”