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Top Gator all smiles

By JAMAL THALJI, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published April 14, 2002

LAND O'LAKES -- For Mike Seidl, the second time around sure beat the first time -- especially since he was the one getting beat.

He struggled mightily in his first few matches this season, stumbling to a 2-2 record as Land O'Lakes' No. 1 singles player.

"Mentally, I'd say for some of his matches, his stroke was there, but he wasn't," Gators coach Karen Turman said. "But once conference play started, he got it together."

Since then, Seidl has improved to 13-5 and he's won five of his last seven matches to help turn Land O'Lakes into one of the county's top teams. Plus, he and doubles partner Vu-Anh Thai enter Monday's Class 3A, District 7 tournament undefeated.

Not bad work for a sophomore, and one who endured an 0-16 team record last season as a freshman at No. 1 singles.

"I guess I more or less underestimated the opponents a little bit," Seidl said, "and the second time is always sweeter, because you always want to get back at them, to get a little revenge."

Armed with a powerful crosscourt forehand, he'll be going for it all on Monday: a berth in the state tournament as a singles and doubles player and a shot at the district team title, which would advance the Gators to Friday's regional round.

But to get Land O'Lakes this far, Seidl first had to make a midseason course correction.

"First, I changed my serve," he said. "There were too many double-faults this season, way too many. I guess my footwork's gotten a lot better, too, because I get to a lot more balls now. I'm in a better position to hit a lot of balls now and go for the shot I want."

Mentally, he's on top of his game. But it wasn't easy, not playing in front of a standout at No. 2.

"There was a little pressure on me, being No. 1, because our No. 2 guy (Thai) is undefeated. So that put pressure on me to win the matches. I guess it just caused a breakdown in my stroke. When I was in the middle of a stroke, I just wasn't falling through with my shots."

Seidl said his success and his team's have come as a shock. And he hopes it stays that way.

"From the beginning of the season, we just expected nothing," he said.

"We had such a bad season last year, and we didn't know who was coming back. But now we pretty much expect to win the district, and now we're hopeful."

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