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    In one day, 10 years of winning ends

    Seminole High School's girls tennis team hadn't lost a PCAC regular-season match since 1991. Countryside ended the run.

    By RODNEY PAGE

    © St. Petersburg Times, published March 11, 2001


    It was an inevitable day those close to the Seminole girls tennis program treated like a trip to the dentist. Eventually it was going to come, but the longer they could put it off, the better.

    For 10 seasons, through two coaches and three waves of players, Seminole won 148 consecutive Pinellas County Athletic Conference regular-season matches.

    But the day finally arrived. Monday, Feb. 26, 2001. Countryside 7, Seminole 0.

    The Streak was over.

    There was nothing to mark the occasion. The players simply packed their bags and looked forward to the next match.

    They vowed to start another win streak. So far, Seminole has won three straight since the loss and is 5-1.

    It's a start.

    "We know it's something that doesn't last forever," said junior Desiree Collins, who, along with Courtney Koch is the only player returning from the 2000 team. "We'll just start another streak."

    Starting a win streak was the furthest thing from Erin Russell's mind at the start of the 1991 season. Russell was in her fourth year as Seminole's coach, and she was just trying to raise the Warhawks from mediocrity.

    Monica Kervandjian was the lone senior and No. 1 player. But a promising group of younger players joined the team, including Angela Lovelace, Rachel Fiset, Angela Karcher and Helen Yotseff.

    Russell was hoping just to get past the district tournament. The Warhawks ended up winning all 14 PCAC matches, the district championship and the school's first state championship.

    "I knew we had a good team, but not a state championship team," Russell said. "Back then the Sarasota schools were the best and we were in their district. So just getting past them in districts was a big accomplishment."

    It wasn't until the second or third season that The Streak started to take on a life of its own. By then, that first group was upperclassmen and a freshman sensation named Christa Grey arrived.

    Suddenly, The Streak was everything.

    "It became a big thing," Russell said. "I'm out there stressed out. The biggest thing was keeping the streak going. The girls didn't even worry about winning districts or going to states, they just wanted to keep that streak going."

    Fiset was a sophomore transfer from St. Petersburg on the '91 team. She played No. 2 that season and eventually attended Purdue University on a tennis scholarship.

    "We didn't think about what we were doing at the time," said Fiset, who now lives in Los Angeles and is an assistant for AMG Sports, which provides agents for athletes. "It's not like Seminole was one of these private tennis academies. We were just happy to be winning. But once it got started, it got really exciting."

    Lovelace said she's proud to be a pioneer of The Streak.

    "What's pretty cool about it is that it put tennis on the map at Seminole," said Lovelace, who is now a certified public accountant for PricewaterhouseCoopers in Tampa. "Before then nobody even knew we had a tennis team. We all played for fun. It was more of a social thing."

    Fiset, Lovelace and the others, gave way to Christa and Lori Grey, Lauren Scaglione and Nicole Cercone. Russell gave way to Rich Lally after the 1995 season when she had her second child. She's still a math teacher at the school.

    Nothing changed. Seminole continued to roll and got stronger. The Grey sisters were two of the best to ever play for the Warhawks. Both earned scholarships to the University of Georgia, and Lori won singles state championships in 1998 and '99 and won doubles championships those same years with Scaglione.

    Unlike those who started The Streak, players like the Greys joined the team with the burden of keeping it alive.

    "I knew all about it by the time I got there," said Lori Grey, who is a sophomore at Georgia and two years younger than her sister Christa. "None of us wanted to be the ones that lost it. But it seems like we were never challenged when I was there. We always had such strong teams and the matches weren't that close."

    Lally's memory is a little clearer, and he recalls some nail-biters.

    "There really is a lot of luck involved in something like this," Lally said. "My first year was a little easier because the team was loaded, but there was a time when Christa, Lori and Lauren were at a designated (junior) tournament and all we had to replace them were basically beginners. We were playing Gibbs, but they weren't bad. We won that one, but it wasn't easy.

    "In 1998 we lost Lori and Lauren to a designated and we were playing Lakewood. We were down 3-2 going into doubles, which was the first time we'd been losing going into doubles. I split our No. 1 doubles team and we ended up pulling that one out."

    There was another close call against Dunedin in 1999 when Lori Grey and Scaglione were playing another junior tournament. The Warhawks needed to win No. 5 singles and barely did.

    Then came the biggest threat of all in 1999 against St. Petersburg.

    "Lori was at a junior tournament and got back late Sunday," Lally said. "She didn't go to school Monday so she couldn't play. It came down to our No. 1 doubles and we were losing 7-6 (in a pro set) and Desiree Collins was on her second serve of match point. If the serve doesn't go in, we lose. But she got the serve in and we ended up winning the point and the match. There must've been a feeling of, "What do we have to do to beat this team?' "

    St. Petersburg did beat Seminole last season, but it was a regional match and didn't count against the PCAC record. The recent Countryside match did.

    The Cougars, behind top player Jennifer Dent and a well-stocked supporting cast, ended The Streak with an exclamation point. Countryside won five of the seven matches 8-0.

    Word spread quickly, even to alumni such as Fiset, who was 3,000 miles away but knew about the loss almost immediately.

    "My dad e-mailed me and told me about it," Fiset said. "It's sad to see it end. But I never thought it would last this long."

    How Seminole's streak of wins stacks up against others

    The Seminole girls tennis team's 148-match win streak against Pinellas County Athletic Conference opponents was snapped Feb. 26 by Countryside. It was the longest dual-match win streak in the state, but not the nation.

    Tucson High School in Arizona won 218 dual matches from 1959-73. And Miami High School in Arizona won 216 dual matches from 1973-90, the year before Seminole started its run.

    There have also been some impressive win streaks in other sports. Baskin High School in Louisiana won 218 straight girls basketball games from 1947-53.

    Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas won 119 straight soccer games from 1994-97. And Amherst Sweet Home Central High School in New York won 292 straight volleyball games from 1978-87.

    A few impressive streaks are ongoing.

    Brandon's wrestling team has won 346 dual meets dating back to 1971. It has won 12 state championships.

    De La Salle High School in Concord, Calif., has won 113 consecutive football games since 1992.

    Jacksonville Bolles' boys swim team has won 13 straight state championships while its girls swim team has won 10 in a row. -- RODNEY PAGE

    Putting it in perspective

    In 1991, the Persian Gulf War was raging, and Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf was a household name. There was a Bush in office (George Sr.) and a Super Bowl in Tampa (the Giants beat the Bills 20-19), and a tennis dynasty began at Seminole. Here are some other things going on 10 years ago:

    Thelma and Louise, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves and Terminator 2 were tops at the box office.

    The Minnesota Twins beat the Atlanta Braves in Game 7 of the World Series.

    The USSR disintegrated as president Mikhail Gorbachev resigned.

    Theodor S. Geisel (Dr. Seuss), jazz trumpeter Miles Davis and actor Fred MacMurray died in 1991.

    The Grateful Dead was the top touring band. Michael Jackson's album Dangerous and song Black or White topped the charts. -- RODNEY PAGE

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