tampabay.com

Teen discovers a taste for team play

By NANCY MORGAN, Times Sports Correspondent
Published August 2, 2007


Matt Herrock's first trip to a USTA Zone Team Championship last week provided a different look at competition than the usual individual tournaments.

Staged at Wake Forest University, Herrock was among 36 boys and 36 girls from Florida invited from the 16-and-under division. Three teams were formed to compete among USTA sections Mid-Atlantic, Southern and Caribbean. Team format included boys and girls singles and doubles with overall team winners acknowledged.

"It was fun, and especially fun to practice together as a team, instead of playing against each other," said Herrock, 16. "No one left until the team matches were over, so you had your teammates cheering for you."

Also competing in the 16 zonal team competition were area players Becky Bodine of Tarpon Springs and Kara Kucin of Belleair. Bodine and Kucin played on the first-place Florida squad.

Herrock's game has been on a steady rise since his first tournament at 12. Though introduced to tennis around age 5, Herrock devoted his time to club soccer until his team split up when he was about 11.

As a freshman at East Lake High in 2005, Herrock defended the No. 1 slot and No. 2 last year. Both years he competed at state.

"I like going to tournaments and seeing my friends," said Herrock of Tarpon Springs. "The more you win, the longer you stay and spend time with your friends. If you do good, you stay and have fun."

Florida-ranked in the top 50 in the 16 division, Herrock hopes to acquire enough points through tournament results to qualify for state designated and national contests when he turns 17 in December and moves into the 18 division.

Since the end of the school year, Herrock has been training at the Elsawy Tennis Center staged on the USF tennis courts. Director Tamer Elsawy was a 12-year Davis Cup player for Egypt and a touring professional six years.

"I'm working on developing a counter-puncher style of play and don't really like the net much, although I'll come in if I have to," Herrock said. "My game's been changing some and I'm getting more consistent with my backhand so that if I don't end a point with my backhand, I can at least stay in the point."

Herrock hopes his tennis development will result in a scholarship to a Division-I school where, along with tennis, he plans to pursue a degree in civil engineering.

Next weekend, Herrock's tennis will take him to St. Augustine where he will compete among the state's best in the First Coast Tennis Foundation Designated Tournament.

TENNIS LOSES A FRIEND: The local tennis community lost a passionate tennis advocate with last month's passing of Gene Biittner, 80, of Seminole.

Following his retirement from the education field, the former junior and Notre Dame tennis player directed his efforts to promoting tennis, especially senior leagues, and was a force in the development of the USTA Senior Doubles League for players at least 50. The tennis community best remembers Biittner as a fervent, committed player-coach-captain who always displayed sportsmanship and kindness toward fellow players.

NET SHOTS: Last month, about 40 juniors competed in a local sanctioned tournament, Summer Classic Too, at Safety Harbor Spa. Collecting singles awards were Jade Smith in the girls 12 round robin, Julian Haerle boys 12 and top seed Austin Kondor 16. Playing to the final were Stephanie Cruz in girls 14, Tiffany Easton 16, Nicholas Linardos boys 12, Luke Burton 16 and Matt Herrock 18.

- The North Florida Designated Tournament in Tallahassee last month included almost 30 local players among the 440 overall. Top seed Jorge Guerra won the boys 18, as did second-seed Bodine the girls 16. No. 3 Danielle Collins reached the 18 final and unseeded Anastasia Nefedova placed fourth in 12.

LEAGUE NEWS: Next weekend, six local and regional champions battle for state bragging rights and the opportunity to compete for a national championship. Representing the St. Petersburg/Clearwater league winners are Countryside Country Club 2.5 and 3.5 women's teams and men's squads Countryside 3.0, Largo 3.5, Seminole Lake Tennis Center 4.0 and McMullen 4.5.

The three-day contest is Aug. 10-12 at the Florida Tennis Center in Daytona Beach.

- The Adult Women's Combo League named Countryside Country Club champion in the 7.5 division and Royal Racquet Club the 8.5 winner.

Countryside players include captain Donna Bleakley, Tracey Sullivan, Kassie Ruby, Mary Guthrie, Dina Glover, Lea Avery, Linda McKenzie, Gigi Mashburn, Marilyn Kallaugher, Claudia Mitchell, Jill Fox, Elizabeth Proctor, Nancy Klibanoff, Kenni Freire and Nancy Morgan.

Royal's team includes captain Valerie Schaefer, Colleen Singer, Donna Coddington, Lisa Durkin, Christy Monroe, Martha Isaza, Anne Marie Masson, Nancy Boyce, Mechy Wright, Lisa Freeman, Judi Morris, Linda Thomson, Stephanie Ladell and Donna Roberts.

In the 6.5 division, East Lake and Countryside are in the lead with a few matches remaining.

League winners advance to USTA Florida sectional tournaments in January.

- In mixed doubles, Tampa Aces/Isla del Sol won the seven-team 7.0 division, Royal Racquet the 8.0 division among eight teams and McMullen the 9.0 three-team division.

COMING UP: Royal Racquet Club hosts a Summer Designated Classic beginning Aug. 11 for men's and women's open, 35-and-over, 45 and 55 age divisions. Call 799-3200. ...The Summer Local Junior Championships at East Lake Woodlands begin Aug. 11. Call 785-2212. ...Hot, Hot, Hot Rookie Tournament begins Aug. 11 at Largo's Southwest Tennis Complex. Call 518-3125.

News for this column may be faxed to Nancy Morgan, 445-4119; e-mailed to namorgan@tampabay.rr.com or sent to 710 Court St., Clearwater, FL 33756. Please include phone number.