If the MCIAC girls’ and boys’ tennis tournament held Thursday and Friday at Tuscawilla Park in Ocala showed us anything, it’s that parity reigns on Marion County’s tennis courts.
At the two-day event, five district schools competed for the girls’ crown and six for the boys’ crown.
The girls were tied until the last game. A point separated the top three teams, with Vanguard eventually finishing first with 14 points, Forest second with 13 points, and West Port third with 12.
“As far as I can remember, this is the closest girls’ tournament we’ve ever had,” said Lori Croi, who has been Forest girls’ tennis coach for nine years.
Forest won the boys’ competition with 17 points, followed by Vanguard (14) and West Port (10).
After earning byes in the first round, the Forest and Vanguard boys took to the court on Friday afternoon. An angry loss for the Knights would be their foil.
“What’s really spectacular about it is that it’s not just the kids who play tennis 24/7,” said Pam Copeland, Vanguard’s freshman head coach. “Our number one goal is to build character, number two is to learn tennis and number three is to learn what it means to be on a team. Tennis is such an individual sport, but staying and having all these kids is what I’m really trying to focus on. Being part of a team is a very different experience and I think that was key to our success.”
The district tournament went beyond stats and trophies. We’ll go through each team’s storylines and champions below.
How many of all county members have returned?Star Banner Girls Tennis All County Team: Belleview’s DJ Bennett is Player of the Year
Who came back from across the county last year?Star-Banner All-County Boys’ Tennis: West Port’s Tyler Leaird Repeats Player of the Year
Vanguard’s 2022 State Tournament RunVanguard boys come up short in tennis regional finals but two players qualify for state
Vanguard girls win first MCIAC title in three years
Sport is cyclical at all levels. Pros are bound by contracts that could alter a team’s power once a player reaches the free hand. In college sports, talented players are lost to graduation and other things that can be beyond a coach’s control.
It’s been at least three years since Forest lost the girls’ county tennis tournament. It’s been so long since the last time Vanguard won a title, the coaches at the participating schools had no idea.
“The wonderful thing about this tournament is that you’re playing against quality teams, but only one of those teams is in our district,” said Copeland. “As a coach, I need to see where the holes are in our game so I can set up a practice so we can work on the things that gave us some trouble in that game.”
Knights and Wolf Pack break the tie
Each win on Friday afternoon resulted in a lead change between the county’s top three girls’ teams. The Wildcats slipped from a medal position when one of their girls became ill enough to lose their match.
This unfortunate incident paved the way for the most epic county tournament finish of the season. In six rounds of tennis, Vanguard and Forest were tied by 12 points each. The county title fell on the very capable shoulders of doubles partners No. 2.
The two duos exchanged sets until 8 p.m. Then the lights went out in the park. Croi and the Vanguard staff, without skipping a beat, yelled “To Fort King.”
A 10-minute drive, 20 minutes of play, and 13 sets later, the Knights breathed a sigh of relief. They secured a No. 2 doubles win and clinched a win.
Championship Day falls on the first day of Ramadan
Thursday was the first day of Ramadan. This is a time reserved for prayer, fasting, and several other practices in Islamic tradition and impacted Vanguard’s title run.
Freshman Saeed ElMallah got off to a slow start in his championship round. It was his second match on one of the hottest spring days. Out of concern and shock, Copeland spoke to their player about his energy levels. Then he told his coach that he was fasting.
“He’s (ElMallah) out there with no energy, so I’m like, ‘Saeed, what’s going on?’ and he said, ‘I’ve been fasting,'” Copeland said. “Look, either you show me you have some energy or we’re done.”
The words of encouragement helped ElMallah reverse his 5-2 deficit in the second half of the game. Seven grueling sets later, thanks to ElMallah’s persistence, Vanguard claimed their second singles title of the day.
1: Harrison Schwartzburg (Forest) defeated. Raaghuv Nandur (vanguard), 8-5
2: Dhru Patel (Vanguard) defeated Ryan Murray (Forest), 8-6
3: Nick Dessaint (Forest) def. Karthik Ventrapragada (Vanguard), 8-6
4: Saeed ElMallah (Vanguard) vs. Zach Myers (Forest), 8-6
5: Ian Harrell (Forest) def. Shane Hoang (Vanguard), 8-2
1: Harrison Schwartzburg/Ryan Murray (Forest) def. Luke Riley/Adrian Lozano (West Port), 8-5
2: Zach Myers/Nick Dessaint (Forest) def. Ellison Conrad/Ahimsan Sivasekaran (Vanguard), 8-5
1: Madison Molock (Forest) defeated Irene Bonilla Gomez (West Port), 8-0
2: Jordan Tico (Westport) defeated Ryleigh Gibbs (Vanguard), 8-3
3: Briana Garcia (Westport) def. Kendall O’Connor (Vanguard), 8-5
4: Veronica Fargoso (Vanguard) def. Shelby Luffman (Forest), 8-3
5: Jordan Nwakoby (Vanguard) defeated Chloe Kostowicz (Forest), 8-4
1: Madison Molock/Evangeline Ryan (Forest) defeated Bonilla Gomez/Jordan Tico (West Haven), 8-0
2: Veronica Fargoso/Ryleigh Cribbs (Vanguard) def. Briana Garcia/Eden Thomas (West Port), 8-5