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Plant sticks to plan and advances with boys title

The Panthers sweep the singles finals to run away with their fourth straight district tennis title.

By MIKE READLING, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published April 23, 2003

TEMPLE TERRACE -- The best way to show up to a big fight is to prepare mentally beforehand.

That was why Plant coach Matt Pfeiffer talked to each of his players before Tuesday's Class 3A, District 11 finals and told them the plan: Win as many singles matches as possible, that way the doubles don't count for anything more than an extra team going to state.

Pfeiffer figured with King and Plant meeting in every singles final and the teams tied with 10 points, he'd like to have a fourth consecutive district title sewn up before doubles began.

He was more than right.

The Panthers swept all five singles matches in two sets to clinch the title but forfeited No. 2 doubles to King when No. 3 player Eric Franca hurt his back. Eli Samaha and Javier Martinez won at No. 1 doubles to give Plant 20 points, enough to beat King (15).

Samaha and Martinez qualified for state in No. 1 doubles for the second straight year.

"We played really well today, much better than when we met in the regular season," Pfeiffer said. "They showed up fired up and they wanted to win. And, to make sure, they dominated. The guys came through in the singles."

The next big hurdle Plant faces is getting Friday's region match against Durant switched to Thursday at Grady Courts so Pfeiffer can field a full team. If the match isn't moved, Plant will be without Samaha and No. 5 player Neil Khant, scheduled to be in Orlando for a state math competition.

4A-5: Wharton can't match St. Petersburg

TAMPA -- The No. 1 singles match between St. Petersburg's Alamgir Wali and Wharton's Konstantin Lazarov was a hard-fought three-setter, but the rest of Tuesday's tournament was pretty much a runaway for St. Petersburg.

The Green Devils, who won with 15 points, three more than Wharton and four more than Hillsborough, captured all three of their singles finals and had the tournament won before the doubles.

Wali, who is internationally ranked, was the only singles player to go three sets, beating Lazarov 6-1, 3-6, 6-4. No. 4 Michael Brady and No. 5 Zack Ferguson had rather easy wins, 6-4, 6-3 and 6-0, 6-0.

St. Petersburg will host Sarasota in Friday's region tournament, at the St. Petersburg Tennis Center.

Wharton, which beat St. Petersburg in last season's district tournament en route to state, got consolation as its No. 1 doubles team of Lazarov and Frankie Castillo beat St. Petersburg's No. 1 doubles team. Lazarov and Castillo will play in the state tournament.


3A-12: Durant's top five face few challengers

BRADENTON -- Durant coach Jens Diaz was pleased and amazed at the play of his team in the tournament. He thought his young players would win consecutive championships, but he wasn't sure they would sweep.

The Cougars dominated both days of competition, winning all five singles and both doubles matches for a maximum 21 points.

Host Lakewood Ranch placed a distant second with 10 points, which included three singles runner-up finishes and one second-place doubles team. "You can't build a team like this," Diaz said. "They train on their own, improve on their own and work hard year 'round to be the best. Actually, my part is to drive them where they have to be for their next match. These are just a great group of tennis players."

Last season, the team won its district after some tough competition then went on to place third in Class 3A. Playing in positions Nos. 1-5 for the Cougars were Shaun Young, Alex Vuckovic, Brad Henderson, Justin Whitford and Brenton Assing. Young and Vuckovic combined their talents to win the No. 1 doubles and Henderson and Whitford won No. 2 doubles. Whitford is the only senior in Durant's top five. Young and Assing are juniors and Vuckovic and Henderson are sophomores.

"Right now our team is pretty confident about our individual and team play in this first part of our drive to challenge for a state championship," Young said. "We are all close friends and hang out a lot together, but we are very competitive on the court, even when playing each other. We have a goal as a team. We want to win the state championship."


2A-11: Jesuit survives scare from Southeast

LARGO -- Brian Walsh of Jesuit was down 5-6 and 0-40 to Tampa Catholic's Jason Wyatt in their first set in Tuesday's district finals when he heard the crowd on a nearby court cheering the defeat of a Tiger teammate.

"I knew then how important my match would be," Walsh said. "I had to bring out everything I had to beat Jason because I knew we really needed a win from me."

He was right. After rallying to win that set 7-3 in a tiebreak, Walsh won the second set 6-3 to seal the No. 1 singles. At day's end, his Tigers beat Bradenton Southeast 22-21 to win the team championship and advance to the region tournament Friday at Hillsborough Community College in Tampa.

"Brian is only a sophomore but he showed maturity and leadership today in coming back like he did to win," Jesuit coach Joe Curtis said. "When his team needed him, he really came through."

Jesuit advances to region play for the ninth consecutive year.

Jesuit's Connor Blouin, Matt Jordan and Drew Jennewion also won singles titles. Blouin beat Christian Leavitt of Southeast 0-6, 6-4, 6-3 at No. 3, Jordan beat Daniel Rosales of Tampa Catholic 6-0, 6-0 at No. 4 and Jennewion, after getting through a tough 6-1, 4-6, 7-6 (7-4) semifinal win over Noah Hansen of Palmetto, beat Thomas Jackson of Southeast 6-0, 6-4 at No. 5.

The only singles final not involving Jesuit was at No. 2 won by Peter Mirnyi of Southeast over Joshua Ferlita of Tampa Catholic 6-0, 6-1.

In doubles, Brandon Noel and Mirnyi of Southeast turned back Jesuit's Walsh and Jordan 6-2, 6-3 at No. 1 and Christian Leavitt and Jackson of Southeast defeated Chad Weber and Scott Goldberg of Osceola 6-2, 6-1 at No. 2.

Robinson coach Tom Fillion, whose team finished third with 12 points, said, "The competition seemed more even this year and that's a good sign. We had four of our players, Sergio Remor, William Vassallo, Han Nguyen, and Matt Wyche, advance to the semifinals and they deserved that because they've practiced hard all season."


A-8: Tampa Prep's Navas spoils Saddlebrook sweep

TAMPA -- There was no pressure on Tampa Prep's George Navas to beat Saddlebrook No. 1 Mark Spicijaric, a junior from New Jersey who just returned from winning the prestigious Easter Bowl juniors tournament.

If only every match was this way for Navas. The freshman took control of the top singles final early and defeated Spicijaric 6-1, 6-4.

"He was really high emotionally and really hyper (before the match)," Navas said. "At first, I don't think he was mentally prepared. If he had broken my serve once, the match could have been turned around."

Navas was the only player not from Saddlebrook to advance beyond the district, and he plays in his first state tournament next week in Tallahassee. Saddlebrook swept the rest of Tuesday's singles and doubles finals.

Saddlebrook senior and No. 4 Leonard Gullen (ranked No. 3 in South Africa), the only returner from last season, paired with Spicijaric to defeat Navas and Cam Babbitt 6-1, 7-6 (11-9).

Saddlebrook finished with 13 points and runner-up Tampa Prep scored eight. Berkeley Prep and Cambridge did not score.


4A-6: Sarasota advances

At Venice High, Sarasota boys edged Venice by one match, amassing 13 points and winning the district. Sarasota will travel to St. Petersburg on Friday for the region tournament.


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