The Wharton girls tennis team is headed to state for the first time ever. (Photo courtesy of Michelle Sacks)

Everything was lined up against the Wharton High girls tennis team.

With a berth to the Class 3A State tournament on the line, the Wildcats were facing Wiregrass Ranch, which had beaten Wharton 7-0 earlier in the season.

This time around, the Wildcats were trailing 2-1 after the three singles matches, and their remaining two lines were headed to 10-point tiebreakers. They had to win at least one of them just to stay alive.

And, even if they did, the Wildcats would then have to win both doubles matches to clinch the victory.

Turns out, that’s exactly how it went.

Sofia Manzanares kept her postseason win streak going at regionals. (Photo: John C. Cotey)

Thanks to a clutch performance at No. 4 singles, where Kelsey Fusco lost the first set but stormed back to win the second and the 10-point tiebreaker to give the Wildcats a chance, the Wharton girls tennis team advanced to the Class 3A State championships for the first time in school history.

“I knew if we gave ourselves a chance to make it to doubles, we were good,” said second-year head coach Jason Doughlin. “The girls were definitely excited afterwards. Beyond excited, to be a part of history.”

Trailing 3-2 after the singles action, both doubles lines took the courts at the Temple Terrace Recreation Center with the Bulls needing only one win to advance.

However, the No. 1 Wharton doubles team of sophomore Sofia Manzanares and freshman Lisa Maeda beat the Bulls top combo of Sydney West and Natalie Andelova 6-1, 6-1 in quick order, leaving two seniors – Fusco and Julia Sacks – to complete the comeback, which they did 6-3, 6-3.

“It was obviously very nerve wracking,” said Sacks. “We just tried to keep it cool, to make sure we had a good time because we knew it could be the last time we play together in high school.”

Manzanares and Maeda were already headed to State, as the district champions at No. 1 singles and No. 1 doubles automatically advance to the individual competition. But, the goal was to win the Regional in order to also be able to bring the others — Fusco, Sacks and Paulina Giraldo — to the State’s team competition.

“I think a lot of the girls remembered what happened the first time we played Wiregrass, and didn’t want it to happen again,” Doughlin said. “But the first time, we didn’t have Kelsey, and Sofia lost at singles and couldn’t play doubles because she was suffering from a migraine. A lot of things have changed since then.”

Manzanares, who missed tryouts last season and did not play, lost to West in singles the first time the Wildcats met the Bulls. In the rematch at Regionals, she posted an easy straight-set win.

Doughlin says the team just came together at the right time. Manzanares and Maeda, both first-year players, meshed with the veterans and everyone is playing their best tennis of the season. Despite a few losses during the 8-4 regular season, the team won Districts, beat Hillsborough 5-0 in the Regional semifinals and then finished off Wiregrass Ranch 4-3 in the final.

“It still hasn’t sunk in,” said Sacks. “At the beginning of the year we were very happy to have two new girls so we had a good. But as we got closer to districts, I didn’t know if we were able to pull it out. I saw the girls determination, though. Once we won districts, things kind of got real. It’s still crazy that we’re going to states.”

The Class 3A State finals will be held April 25-28 in Altamonte Springs. Wharton plays Viera High on their opening match on Monday.

Recommended Posts

No comment yet, add your voice below!

Add a Comment