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Knights' illnesses don't phase top player

Despite having to play with four different partners this season in No. 1 doubles, River Ridge's Jen Suarez maintains her focus on winning.

By STEVE LEE

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 8, 2001


NEW PORT RICHEY -- Jen Suarez didn't lose a regular-season singles match last year on a team that also didn't lose.

Although she and her team fell from the unbeaten ranks this season, the sophomore took it in stride.

"I just do my best," said Suarez, who went 11-0 in No. 3 singles as a freshman to help River Ridge finish with a perfect record (14-0) for the first time in school history.

As for the team losing its first match Thursday, along with the Sunshine Athletic Conference title -- 4-3 to Hudson after both teams came into the match with 7-0 conference marks, thereby preventing River Ridge (15-1) from a 30-0 mark in two seasons -- Suarez shrugged that off too.

"We did our best. We had a lot of sick girls," Suarez said.

So many sick girls, in fact, that Suarez played with four doubles partners this season. And while that did not affect Suarez's play in singles matches (she went 11-4 at No. 1), it kept her from finding any consistency on the court in doubles as she and her partners went 9-6.

"They're all getting sick on me," Suarez said before being paired with No. 7 player Jessica Glenn in Thursday's No. 1 doubles loss to Hudson's Jessica Franca and Michelle Griffin.

River Ridge coach Ron Spriggs went down the ladder to find a partner for Suarez in the season finale.

No. 4 Ali Bigger, 3-1 with Suarez in No. 1 doubles before contracting mononucleosis and missing five matches, was too tired to play after defeating Griffin in No. 4 singles.

No. 5 Ashley Cappadona, who also went 3-1 while teamed with Suarez in No. 1 doubles this season, felt ill and played her singles match before leaving early.

No. 6 Christine Glenn, Jessica's sister, missed the last match with strep throat.

"Jenny's had a lot of adversity," Spriggs said. "Bigger gets sick then Ashley gets sick, then Bigger gets sick again. Then Christina gets sick."

"You have to adjust to each one," Suarez said. "It's a little difficult."

Suarez adjusted well enough with Cappadona last Tuesday to defeat Wesley Chapel's Cristina Lucin and Lindsay Lucado. That marked the first time Suarez had defeated Lucin, the reigning Times Girls Tennis Player of the Year, at any level.

Just as Suarez derived pleasure from beating Lucin, the Cobras' Franca felt just as satisfied to be on the winning end against Suarez on Thursday.

"It feels good to win, because last time we lost (to Suarez and Bigger)," Franca said.

Suarez controls most of the action when the ball is on the Knights' side of the court during doubles matches. As for her partners, they appreciate the chance to team up with Suarez every chance they get.

"She's awesome to play with," Cappadona added. "She's shown me a lot. She's so aggressive at the net. I wasn't so good at the net, but once I saw her go to the net it clicked."

Suarez doesn't know who her doubles partner will be when the Class 4A, District 5 tournament gets underway April 16. She does know, however, the competition at No. 1 will be much more difficult than last year.

In fact, Suarez welcomes the challenge of going up against state-ranked players such as Gaither's Brianna Williams and Palm Harbor University's Sarah Buchanan.

"We've never played any of them, so I don't know what to expect," Suarez said. "I like playing the better players. When you play the better players you tend to play better yourself."

Some of Suarez's doubles partners can attest to that.

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