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Spartans' title might be the last


© St. Petersburg Times, published April 27, 2001

WESLEY CHAPEL -- It took six years for Saddlebrook Prep to win its first state tennis championship.

Could the girls Class A title won Wednesday at Hillsborough Community College be its last?

Possibly, especially if the school that has fielded only boys and girls tennis and golf teams since 1996 opts not to abide by a recent Florida High School Activities Association ruling that mandates schools participate in two fall, winter and spring sports to be eligible for state tournaments.

Saddlebrook girls tennis coach Dave McCain said discussions among school administrators and coaches have begun and that a decision is not expected any time soon.

"I'd like to see us continue to have a tennis program," said McCain, who suggested adding boys and girls soccer teams to meet the FHSAA's winter sports requirement.

Chris Johnson, who coaches the Saddlebrook boys team that finished as state runners-up for the second consecutive year, doesn't want to see the team concept disbanded either. Johnson feels the tennis program has improved and that the boys are perennial contenders for a state championship.

"We're definitely one of the top schools in Florida," said Johnson, acknowledging that Class A champion Boca Raton Prep is slightly ahead of the Spartans. "I think we have to make strides and get a little better and be more consistent."

Like several private schools in the state, Saddlebrook offers high-level instructional programs in golf and tennis for aspiring professionals. But by offering team sports, McCain said, "it helps us to create more of a school spirit instead of just a place to come to play tennis and golf.

"For a lot of kids, it's the only opportunity to play on a team. I think the team thing really is important."

Most of the participants on Saddlebrook teams don't play in as many outside tournaments as the school's higher ranked players. McCain's daughter, Kelly McCain, was an exception to that rule this season.

Kelly McCain, the nation's top-ranked player in girls 18s who has signed with Duke, helped lead the Spartans to the state title this week by winning the No. 1 singles team championship and teaming up with Emily Sechaud to win the overall No. 1 doubles crown.

Kelly McCain, who has two Easter Bowl divisional victories, preferred to end her career at Saddlebrook as a high school player.

"I'm a senior and I played in the Easter Bowl five times," she said.

No one else on Saddlebrook's girls or boys teams played in the recent Easter Bowl, a highly competitive USTA tournament in Palm Springs, Calif.

"We've never just put together a team to dominate or rule the state tournament," coach McCain said. "It's obvious, because we'd never won it."

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