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The timing is right for Hinkle, Black

By STEVE LEE

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 9, 2001


ZEPHYRHILLS -- One of Chris Hinkle's goals last year was to represent Zephyrhills at the Class 2A state tournament.

He settled for half of that by earning a spot, but not playing.

This year, Hinkle plans to qualify once again, but this time he vows to play.

Hinkle and Chris Black, seniors who each won district singles championships and shared a district title in doubles, qualified for states in doubles last April. But Black opted out by taking a planned family vacation to Lake Tahoe.

Left with no choice, Hinkle stayed in Zephyrhills, lifting weights and working in his father's auto body shop.

"I missed out on states and everything, but I helped my dad out," Hinkle said.

Even at the time, Hinkle did not begrudge his teammate for eschewing the state series for a vacation. Rather, Hinkle complained about the timing of the state tournament.

"I think me and Chris had a great season together," Hinkle said. "I was really looking forward to see how we could do."

Zephyrhills, a district runner-up to Hudson last season, is on administrative probation as a result of last year's No. 1 doubles team not showing up to the state meet. That, coach Gary Davis said, amounted to a "slap on the wrist" since the Bulldogs still are able to compete in post-season tournaments.

This spring, there will be no such controversy as the state tournament does not coincide with spring break. That is a relief to Hinkle and Black, as well as their coach.

"We checked into that right in the beginning," said Hinkle, 13-2 in No. 2 singles last year. "If we qualify, we're definitely going to play."

Aside from that noted absence, keeping Hinkle off the court has been a problem for Davis. For instance, Hinkle came out for tennis last year hobbling on his left ankle, which he had injured playing on the Bulldogs' soccer team.

"He's just a die-hard kind of guy. He plays in pain," Davis said.

"When I came out, I was still fighting an injury," said Hinkle, adding that he did not want to let down his partner.

For all of his success, Hinkle has no reservations about taking a back seat to Black, the reigning Sunshine Athletic Conference and Times All-Pasco Player of the Year.

"Obviously, he's a better player than I am," Hinkle conceded, adding that the tandem plays together so well, because "we listen to each other. We have fun. We don't get mad at each other -- ever. We trust each other."

The confidence the Zephyrhills partners have in one another, along with their talent and familiarity with each other's games, could land Hinkle and Black in the state tournament.

What would please Hinkle, who played in states as a freshman at No. 4 singles and finished fourth, would be for the rest of the Bulldogs to qualify for that season-ending series.

"I really want our team to go to states all together," Hinkle said.

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