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New lineup, same old confidence

Wharton shuffles its singles rankings, but the team has plenty of depth.

By FRANK PASTOR

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 6, 2001


TAMPA -- Head coach Becky Gerberding wonders how far Wharton might have gotten if it had No. 1 singles player Shannon Whyte for last year's regional playoff against Lake Region.

She doesn't know, because Whyte was on a cruise to the Caribbean, causing the Wildcats to forfeit the No. 1 singles and doubles matches.

This year, the absence is worse. Gerberding will find out how her team fares without Whyte for an entire season.

Whyte, recently recovered from a bout with mononucleosis, chose not to play tennis this year.

"I really would like to have her on the team," Gerberding said. "It's always nice to have a nice player like Shannon on your team. But I think we'll be a good team without her."

Whyte's absence will complicate Wharton's search for a third consecutive district title. But the Wildcats should be able to avoid at least two of the problems that plagued them in the regional playoff loss.

For starters, Jessica Comegys won't be flying in from New Jersey the night before her matches, as she did for the playoff. And Christine Pope is unlikely to be leaving a boat in the Gulf and rushing back to town in a rental car.

Such are the pitfalls when the post-season coincides with spring break.

"I think we would have done well, I really do," Gerberding said. "We had gone the year before to state and finished third, and I think that last year we could have done just as well, maybe better, because we had a strong team."

Wharton lost two players from last season's team, which compiled a 15-0 record before the playoff loss.

Besides Whyte, Amanda Terrell graduated. Terrell played No. 3 singles and teamed with Carrie Leitch at No. 2 doubles.

Comegys, last year's No. 2 singles player, will move up. Leitch and Valentina Gomez, previously the No. 5 player from Venezuela, will vie for the Nos. 2 and 3 spots. Freshman Courtney Bogart, a former tournament player returning to tennis, will play at No. 4. Pope will remain at No. 5.

The doubles teams are not set, but Gerberding said they likely will be some combination of Wharton's top four singles players.

It is in doubles where Wharton will miss Whyte most. She and Comegys qualified for the state tournament last season.

"She was an excellent singles player, but I'd have to say her play at No. 1 doubles last year definitely helped us get to state," Gerberding said. "She was the biggest reason that they got to state last year at No. 1 doubles."

Gerberding said Wharton will have to play well at Nos. 2 through 5 singles to win the Class 3A, District 11 championship.

"There are a lot of really excellent No. 1 players in the county, so you never know what is going to happen there," she said. "But if you have strong 2 through 4 players, you can win on a regular basis."

Wharton and Plant finished tied atop the district standings last season, but Wharton won a tiebreaker to claim the championship. Plant and King are expected to challenge Wharton for the district title again this year.

"Our goal is to win our district, because if you win your district then you go to regionals and this year our district is paired with a district from Hillsborough County," Gerberding said. "We feel we would have an excellent chance to win our region as well so we can get back to state."

PLAYERS TO WATCH

BRYAN LAUER, SR., COUNTRYSIDE: Will play No. 1 for Countryside for a second consecutive season. Was a Times All-Pinellas first-team selection last season and figures to be a prime candidate to advance to the state tournament as a No. 1 singles player if the Cougars don't advance as a team.

FRED JOHNSON, SO., SEMINOLE: Johnson will take over as the Warhawks' top player and will also play No. 1 doubles. He qualified for the state doubles tournament last season with Ed Christner.

FOR THE FANS ADMISSION: Free

REGULAR SEASON: Schools may begin play Feb. 5, although Pinellas County public schools don't begin until Feb. 14. Last regular-season match is April 14. Most matches begin at 3 p.m.

KEY DATES: Feb. 13 -- Bradenton Academy at Canterbury; Feb. 26 -- Palm Harbor at Tarpon Springs; March 12 -- East Lake at Countryside; April 4 -- Clearwater at Seminole.

TEAMS TO WATCH: Countryside, Canterbury, East Lake, Seminole, Palm Harbor University

PLAYOFFS: Every team participates in the district tournament. Team champions from each district advance to a one-day regional tournament against another district champion. The winner of the regional tournament advances to the state tournament. Additionally, the No. 1 singles winner, if he or she is not on the district championship team, advances to the state tournament as an individual. The same is true for the No. 1 doubles champion. District tournaments begin the week of April 16, regional tournaments are April 20 and the state tournament is April 23-28.

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