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For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
TAMPA - Her energy draining, Freedom's Laura Gioia kept slicing and smacking tennis balls at Pembrook Pines' Nicole Briceno Thursday morning.
Trouble was, Briceno did the same to Gioia, except with a little more oomph as the Class 2A individual title match went on more than 21/2 hours.
"Her body language, the way her hands were going to her hips and the way she was sighing after points was telling me she might be tiring in the later points," Briceno said. "I thought to myself, "just keep applying pressure and keep playing hard.' That's all I could do."
Gioia, the only player from the bay area to reach an individual final in the 2A tournament, finally fell to Briceno 4-6, 6-4, 6-2 at the Hillsborough Community College courts.
"It's discouraging to fight through the whole bracket and reach the final and then not get it done," said Gioia, who will play for Furman University next year. "It's tough to stay mentally and physically up for that long."
In Tuesday's quarterfinals, Gioia battled through the longest match of the tournament, an almost four-hour tussle with the tournament's No. 1 seed, Cardinal Gibbons' Julie Blackmore, who Gioia defeated 4-6, 6-4, 7-5.
Gioia said it was a match she wouldn't trade.
"That match and this tournament was a great experience for me because it was so tough," Gioia said. "When you go through the regular season and then districts and regionals you might run across some good players here and there. But a lot of times you play some opponents who aren't the best.
"Then all of the sudden you're playing here against great players and it's like "whoa' I better step it up."
Gioia didn't get as many matches as she would have liked this year because she was rehabbing a sore wrist; and before this week's tournament she hadn't had any serious competition since a tournament in February. In the end, however, she was pretty pleased with her overall high school tennis career.
"Having the team cheer me on during the tournament really helped," she said. "A lot of times the team gave me a lift at the right time. It was a lot of fun."
A: Terp lands title
Tampa Prep junior George Navas had one of the best days of his tennis life Thursday in Tallahassee. Not only did he defeat the USTA's No. 3 player in the country, Marathon High senior Maciek Sykut, but he went on to win the overall individual Class A title against Saddlebrook's highly-touted Dominic Pagon.
Most of the fireworks came in the individual tournament final against Sykut, who fell to Navas 6-2, 1-6 and 10-8 in a "super tiebreaker" set. Because rain forced a condensed schedule, the tournament played its third sets with the winners being the first to take 10 points and winning by two. Navas trailed 8-6 to Sykut in the tiebreaker before stringing together four consecutive winning points.
"It was a little dicier than we would have liked," Tampa Prep coach Mark Hoekstra said. "He played some great points to pull it out."
In the overall individual title match against the winner of the team No. 1 division, Navas cruised with a 6-2, 6-0 victory over Saddlebrook's Dominic Pagon, whom Navas had twice defeated this season.