By MIKE READLING
© St. Petersburg Times, published April 25, 2001
At Altamonte Springs, Gaither's Liz Rodgers hooked up with freshman teammate Brianna Williams to end her senior season the sweetest way possible.
Rodgers and Williams defeated a team from Fort Walton Beach 6-4, 7-6 (7-4) to win the Class 4A state doubles title at Sanlando Park. The title is the first girls title in Gaither history.
"We are thrilled," Rodgers said. "We're very excited. We came into the whole tournament with very high expectations. We were really on and together in that match. It was probably the best team doubles we have ever played."
The match wasn't decided until Rodgers' final tiebreaker volley bounced off of one of Fort Walton's players and into the net, giving the Cowboys the victory.
"We hugged each other first," Rodgers said. "Then I missed her hand and hit her in the ear. Then we hugged again."
Rodgers and Williams will play the No. 1 doubles team from Miami Sunset, which won the team title, at 8 a.m. today for the overall title.
Rodgers, who has signed to play for North Florida, became the first girls player from Gaither to qualify for the state tournament last year when she played in the No. 1 singles bracket, losing in the semifinals. Williams played in that spot this year, losing in the same round Monday. Now the two self-professed non-morning people have one more obstacle to overcome -- an early start.
"We're going to get up early and be ready for them," Rodgers said.
JACKSONVILLE -- For the past five years, the Class 2A (formerly 4A) state tournament has been a two-horse race between Cardinal Gibbons and Jesuit.
Secretly, Jesuit coach Joe Curtis has longed for another team to step up so the Tigers wouldn't always have to face Cardinal Gibbons in the state tournament. Curtis got his wish this year, as Bolles improved and Pensacola Catholic moved up from Class A. But Jesuit found the going every bit as tough.
Cardinal Gibbons still won the team championship Monday at the University of North Florida, but Bolles sneaked past Jesuit into second place and Pensacola Catholic finished in a tie with Jesuit for third.
"There was more parity this year and better teams," Curtis said, "but Gibbons is still the team to beat."
Despite its worst team finish in five seasons, Jesuit had plenty to get excited about.
Four players, including runner-up Ryler DeHeart, won at least one singles match, and DeHeart and Taylor Ralph placed second at No. 1 doubles for the third consecutive season.
"Even though our finish didn't look as good," Curtis said, "we played just as well this year as we did any other year."
DeHeart, the defending state champion, split the first two sets of the No. 1 singles final before succumbing to leg cramps in the third set of his 6-3, 4-6, 6-1 loss to Cardinal Gibbons' Stefan Tell.
"I was just out of it," DeHeart said.
"I couldn't really run. I was just trying to go for a winner on the first or second ball. That was the difference."
DeHeart recovered in time to help Ralph defeat Bolles' Donald Miles and Rohit Agarwal 1-6, 6-0, 6-4 in the doubles semifinal. But the Jesuit pair was no match for Cardinal Gibbons' Tell and Matt Cabana in the final, losing 6-4, 6-4.
In girls action, Tampa Catholic's Miranda Gutierrez and Lorielle Ferlita fell to top-seeded Joelle Schwenk and Lingda Yang of Cardinal Gibbons 6-0, 6-0 in the second doubles round. The Crusaders won three matches in the tournament to tie Clay for fifth place.