tampabay.com

Courting the elite

Four years ago, Jeanette McDonald was in Chris Nyholm's tennis shoes. She was the hotshot freshman whose reputation preceded her. She was the one who took the county by storm. She was the one who had her coaches raving. This year, McDonald is the Times' Hernando County girls tennis player of the year for the last time. And Nyholm is the boys player of the year for the first.

By DAVID MURPHY
Published May 27, 2007


Talk to McDonald's coach, and he'll talk about the past.

Joe Nicolai says he knew the commodity he was getting when McDonald started her freshman year at Central. After all, her older sister Jane was a star for Nicolai, and older brother John was a similarly gifted player for the boys.

So when Jeanette showed up as a freshman and beat incumbent Shelane Etchison for the No. 1 singles spot, he wasn't surprised.

"I knew the caliber of play she was capable of producing," Nicolai said. "It wasn't any shock."

McDonald won a district title that first year, and another her second. Though she missed the state tournament the last two seasons, losing in the district finals to Wesley Chapel star Yumi Hasegawa, she nevertheless continued to improve.

She also continued to challenge herself off the court, becoming a regimental commander for Central's well-regarded ROTC program. In addition to winning singles matches, she was responsible for the planning and execution of all of the Bears' ROTC events.

"It was hard," McDonald said, "but it was fun."

Talk to Nyholm's coach, and he'll talk about the future.

Tony Miziko, like Nicolai four years ago, knew his freshman had talent before he set foot on a varsity tennis court. But the coach says he was surprised with the player's seamless transition from middle school star to varsity workhorse.

Nyholm lost just two matches all year, one to district champion Trevor Hubbard of Gulf, and one to Nature Coast senior and first-team all-county player Jonathan Kidder.

"When you look back at the season, it amazes me that he was 14," Miziko said. "It amazes me he was a freshman."

Miziko says Nyholm holds his future in his hands. He has a tennis player's frame, and a tennis player's confidence. With a little discipline and a lot of hours on the court, there's no telling how far he might evolve.

Four years ago, McDonald heard the same things. And, suddenly, the future is now. She'll head off to college -- probably Saint Leo -- she'll play tennis, and she'll start at the bottom all over again.

"I dominated in high school tennis, so I'm going to miss being on top," McDonald said. "College is completely different. It's going to be hard for me to repeat success."

The circle of life rolls on.

David Murphy can be reached at dmurphy@sptimes.com or 352 848-1407.

Boys

Player of the Year

Chris Nyholm, Fr., Hernando

Coach of the Year

Tom Brown, Nature Coast

First Team

Jonathan Kidder, Sr., Nature Coast

Nicknamed "J.K.," Kidder wasn't joking around this season. During the regular season, he knocked off eventual district champion Trevor Hubbard of Gulf. In the district tournament, he beat Nyholm, the county's player of the year.

Chris Walters, Jr., Hernando

Leopards coach Tony Miziko said all season that Walters had the talent to play at No. 1, and he proved it, dominating at No. 2. Walters finished 17-1, his only loss coming in the district tournament.

Anthony Carter, Jr., Nature Coast

Carter went 13-3 at No. 2 and No. 3 singles. In district play, he went 5-1 at No. 2 singles and handed Walters his only loss of the season en route to the district title.

Chris Baker, Sr., Springstead

Won conference and district titles at No. 3 for the Eagles.

Honorable Mention

Central - Mike Territo

Hernando - Lance Vandervoort, Erik Lawson

Nature Coast - P.J. Watterson, Willy Holobinka

Girls

Player of the Year

Jeanette McDonald, Central

Coach of the Year

Louise Downey, Nature Coast

First Team

Simone Berger, Jr., Hernando

Foreign exchange student went 16-3 at No. 1 singles and 23-2 at No. 2 doubles, winning conference and district titles.

Alison Steiner, Fr., Hernando

Went 11-6, winning the HCAC title at No. 2 singles. Combined with Berger to go 23-2 at No. 1 doubles.

Rachel Conter, So., Nature Coast

Went 12-5 at No. 1 singles while helping to lead the Sharks to the team district title.

Olivia Williams, Fr., Nature Coast

Dominated at No. 3 singles, winning conference and district titles and going 15-0.

Honorable Mention

Central - Stephanie Wilson

Hernando - Rachel Lowman, Catherine Erana

Nature Coast - Anna DeAngelis, Katie Stellpflug

Springstead - Leah Keefe