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Bears on top, but newcomers could make things interesting

By DAVID MURPHY
Published February 27, 2007


For a small county without any major private schools, Hernando County has had a decent run of luck recently on the courts. Last year, Central's boys advanced to state, while its girls team featured Jeanette McDonald, the top USTA-ranked player in Hernando or Citrus counties.

Today, we look at three burning questions facing the area's girls as they embark on another campaign.

Can Jeanette McDonald get past Yumi Hasegawa?

You have to feel a little bad for the Central senior. She dominated her district as a freshman and sophomore, winning singles titles both years to advance to state. But last year, Hasegawa returned to Wesley Chapel after a year playing in Japan. Hasegawa beat McDonald in the district tournament and advanced to the state semifinals before losing. McDonald, meanwhile, had to be content with a state tournament berth in doubles.

This year, Hasegawa again appears to stand in the way of a state trip. Central coach Joe Nicolai said McDonald's prospects against Hasegawa "depend on whether she thinks she can beat her." Last year, though, Hasegawa flustered McDonald with her hard serve and steady demeanor. The two square off tonight when Central hosts Wesley Chapel.

Is Central still No. 1?

It appears so. The Bears lost two of their top-five singles players, including steady No. 2 Irene Cho. Still, the Bears were aided by exchange student Mathea Schneider, a junior who has stepped in at No. 3 singles. Alexa Burns, meanwhile, recently played what Nicolai said was "the best match of her career" at No. 2 singles. Against Belleview, Burns was dominated in her first set, but roared back to win the next two.

Still, Central could have some competition in the county. Last week, Hernando beat Nature Coast 6-1, despite featuring three new players at the top of its line-up. Coach Pete Lahey shrugged off the win, saying the Leopards were fortunate to win two singles tiebreakers, but the result is nevertheless surprising.

How will the influx of new talent affect the county?

Though Nature Coast coach Louise Downey is happy with the depth and skill level of her line-up, she said her squad is still trying to learn how to compete in pressure situations.

The Sharks aren't the only ones. Three of the four county teams have new No. 1 singles players. Springstead's Leah Keefe is a transfer from Hernando, while Hernando features a foreign exchange student, Simone Berger, at the top of its lineup.

Hernando doesn't have any seniors in its rotation. Nature Coast, Springstead and Central each have one. As the season progresses, it will be interesting to see how each school's lineup evolves.