Central expects fortunes to continue to rise
By BRANT JAMES
© St. Petersburg Times, published February 18, 2001
BROOKSVILLE -- Joe Nicolai had little experience and modest expectations when he took over the Central girls team.
Three years later, he has a bit more experience and one of the better teams in the area.
"I've improved my game tremendously," he laughed. "And I think we've improved as a team, too.
"We work as a team year-round and the girls take advantage of any camp they can get into to improve."
Results were drastic.
After concluding his first season at 3-7, Nicolai watched the Bears finish 14-2 and win district and region titles last spring. Central placed eighth in the state as one of the highest-finishing public programs.
Central's progress has mirrored that of its top two players -- juniors Jane McDonald and Jen Ales -- who finished 15-1, and 14-2, respectively in regular season singles last season and 15-1 as a double tandem.
Nicolai anticipates improvement, but doesn't think the Bears can shatter the seemingly unbreakable glass ceiling that separates public schools from private schools and academies that can recruit talent from around the world.
"(State championships) are the realm of the privates," he said. "We cannot compete.
"Being able to advance our whole team to states was really quite an accomplishment for a public school."
Not so fast, McDonald said.
"It's not impossible," she said. "In tennis, you can have a good day and your opponent could have a bad day and it's anybody's match, really.
"I don't think (publics and privates playing each other) is fair, but (beating them) is possible."
Empirical evidence supports her assertion.
Of the seven schools that finished ahead of the Bears at the Florida Finals, four were public, although the top two (Cardinal Gibbons and Bolles) were private.
COACH: Hank Deslaurier, first year.
KEY LOSSES: Lee Singkorn, Israel Custodio.
KEY RETURNEES: No. 2 Eric Ruoff, Soph.; No. 3 Curtis Gardner, So.; No. 5 Joe Hooper, Soph.
KEY NEWCOMERS: No. 1 Justin Davey, Sr.; No. 4 Mike Harris, Fr.
OUTLOOK: The Bears lose experience in Singkorn and Custodio, but landed a new top seed in first-year player Davey. Harris and Davey will comprise the top doubles team, with Ruoff-Gardner No. 2.
COACH: Brett Teitelman, second year.
LAST SEASON: Fourth in district tournament.
KEY LOSSES None.
KEY RETURNEES: No. 1 Andrew Sufficool, Jr.; No. 2 Eric Frischette, Soph; No. 3 Joshua Vasquez, Sr., David Gottsman, Soph.
KEY NEWCOMERS: No. 4 Daniel Crespo, Fr., No. 5 Brent Lowman, Fr.; No. 2 doubles Drew Taylor, Fr.; No. 2 doubles Michael Ehlenbeck, Fr.; Ben Burgher, Soph.
OUTLOOK: The Leopards will be competitive at the top of their lineup with Sufficool, a returning All-Gulf Coast Athletic Conference selection.
COACH: Terry Hoffman, second year.
LAST SEASON: Finished 2-13, fourth in district.
KEY LOSSES: No. 1 Brian Szudarek.
KEY RETURNEES: No. 1 Hugo Aviles, Sr., No. 2 Johann Pambianchi, soph.
KEY NEWCOMERS: No. 3 John Tenison, Fr., No. 4, Jimmy Fisher, Fr., Brian Fisher, Fr., Lester Nichols, Fr. OUTLOOK: Hoffman already has something he lacked all of last season: warm bodies. The Eagles fielded just four players last season and now have a full complement. Inexperience will be a major factor early in the season
COACH: Joe Nicolai, third year.
LAST SEASON: 14-2 regular season, won district, region titles, finished eighth in state.
KEY LOSSES: None.
KEY RETURNEES: No. 1 Jane McDonald, Jr., No. 2 Jen Ales, Jr., No. 4 Paula Nagarajan, Jr.; No. 5 Kacy Howard, Soph.; Jessica Nicolai, Jr.
KEY NEWCOMERS: No. 3 Shelane Etchison, Fr.; Katie McCabe, Fr.; Liesl Eng, Fr.
OUTLOOK: Expect improvement, even after the Bears dominated the area and finished eighth in the state. The top two singles seeds (Jane McDonald and Jen Ales) are juniors, after finishing 15-1, and 14-2, respectively, last season.
COACH: Louise Harris, first year.
LAST SEASON: 1-10.
KEY LOSSES: None.
KEY RETURNEES: No. 2 Michelle Gimbel, Jr.; No. 4 Tiffany O'Connell, Soph., No. 5 Katie Gawerecki, Jr.
KEY NEWCOMERS: No. 1 Leah Garcia, Soph; No. 3 Jenna Pecsenka, Fr.
OUTLOOK: The Eagles have entered a concentrated tennis clinic with Harris' assumption of head coaching duties. The United States Tennis Professionals Association certified instructor has split practices into half drills, half play. Springstead also had a No. 1 seed plop into the program, as sophomore Leah Garcia, who played at St. Petersburg Catholic last season, is now an Eagle and will alternate at the top with returning junior Michelle Gimbel.
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