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Tirapelli prepares for the college game

By NANCY MORGAN

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 23, 2001


Natalie Tirapelli is closing out her prep career at The Canterbury School in high fashion.

Natalie Tirapelli is closing out her prep career at The Canterbury School in high fashion.

Defending the No. 1 position for the Crusaders since her sophomore year, Tirapelli advanced with her team to this season's Class A state tournament. Last year, she captured the No. 1 doubles title with Amy Downey. This season, Tirapelli and Michelle Murman were finalists.

"I won all my matches during the season except against Kelly Nelson at Shorecrest," said Tirapelli, 18. "I lost in districts to her, too, but our team won so we all went to state. In regionals against Kelly McCain, I was up 1-0 when she defaulted."

Advancing to the match for the state singles championship, Tirapelli fell to a player who trains at the Chris Evert Academy in Boca Raton.

"I had a good season, even though the draw was a lot tougher," Tirapelli said. "Even during the regular season, the competition was much more difficult than in other years."

Last month, Tirapelli was recognized for her athletic, academic and community service efforts during the National Student Athlete Day at Eckerd College. Tirapelli, 16 other high schoolers and 18 Eckerd College students were recognized by the 14-year-old program.

"It was especially nice for me because it was the first year Canterbury was included in the program," Tirapelli said. "Schools nominated students that were judged on school, sports and community service."

This month, Canterbury students and faculty honored Tirapelli. The student body voted her Crusader Lady of 2001. Last week, the faculty selected Tirapelli the female athlete of the year.

"Graduation is going to be sad because I'll miss the school and especially the team," Tirapelli said. "But going to college is exciting because I'll meet lots of new people."

Tirapelli was accepted to a variety of colleges, but chose the University of Connecticut where she will attend on a tennis scholarship.

"I grew up in Indiana and am used to the fall and winter months," she said, "and when I visited there, I really liked the girls on the team and the coach. Actually, the coach reminds me of my coach at the Vinoy."

Hans Gallauer, tennis director for the Renaissance Vinoy, has coached Tirapelli the last few years. Preparing his student for college competition is his task for the summer, he said.

"Natalie is obviously winding down her junior career, although she has a few more junior tournaments to play this summer," Gallauer said. "Mostly, we'll be focusing on whipping her into shape and gearing up for her tennis experience in college."

While training Tirapelli, Gallauer has agreed to an even balance of school, tennis and social life, although he admits most top-10 players are more single-minded. For Tirapelli, however, the balance has kept everything in perspective.

"It's hard to let go after we've been together so long. She's like my senior daughter," Gallauer said. "I think Natalie will be a good fit in the Connecticut program. I see her in the No. 2 to No. 4 positions and winning a lot of matches her first year."

In addition to the school honors Tirapelli has received, young tennis player Katie Ossenmacher has bestowed awards of admiration.

"I've known Natalie a long time," said Ossenmacher, 10. "I've watched her play on the school team with my brother, Brad. She's good, and I hope I can be just like her some day."

Ossenmacher may be on her way with Tirapelli's help. Ossenmacher recently won her first trophy in the consolation draw of a local tournament.

ALSO HONORED: St. Petersburg High School junior Amanda Amick was honored at National Student Athlete Day.

First-year team player Amick and her twin sister, Alison, played doubles for the Devils. Amanda began tennis just three years ago at St. Petersburg Country Club and last season helped teach USA Tennis Rallyball at the club.

SENIOR SECTIONALS: Four of the seven local league winners advanced to the semifinal round in the USTA Florida Section Senior Doubles League Championships in Naples on Monday.

Only Treasure Island Tennis and Yacht Club finished as champions at the women's 4.0 level and qualified for the national tournament.

JUNIOR NOTES: Sonny Kennedy and Nicholas Berning finished first among four teams in the 14-and-under competition of a tournament at Bardmoor Golf and Tennis Club in Largo.

George Navas and Chris Yarn were second in the 18 division, as were Bugsy Bauer and Kelly Nelson on the girls side.

Registration for summer USA Junior Team Tennis continues through June 8. Contact Sam Vuille, 867-9105, or Deborah Tuthill, 866-8434, for details on the coed program.

BENEFIT EVENT: The Lydick Family Tennis Benefit, an adult singles tournament, is June 2 at McMullen Tennis Complex in Clearwater. For information, call 724-1570 or 669-1919.

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