Niceville tennis teams enter region semis as favorites

Tennis

Niceville's Alexis Hruby hits a backhand in the District 2-3A tournament. The senior won her fourth straight district singles title.

NICK TOMECEK | Daily News
Published: Tuesday, April 8, 2014 at 12:35 PM.

NICEVLLE – From the postgame interviews in Wednesday's District 2-3A tennis tournament emerged one common focus from Niceville’s regional-bound teams.

While Tate awaits the girls in the regional semifinals and Washington the boys, it was the team across the Fort Walton Beach Tennis Center on Wednesday that still had Niceville's attention.

That foe, of course, is a familiar one: Longtime rival Leon.

The Lady Eagles edged the Lady Lions 18-17 to win the District 2-3A crown, while the Eagles finished runners-up to the Lions to earn a Region 1-3A semifinal bid.

With each finish, both secured regional semifinal bids. The Lady Eagles shored up homecourt advantage against Tate in today’s Region 1-3A semifinals at Bluewater Bay Tennis Center, while the Eagles earned a Region 1-3A semifinal trip to Pensacola-based Washington.

But both teams are already looking to Thursday's regional finals, which coach Poate views as a positive for the girls but a negative for the boys.

Concerning the Lady Eagles, coach Poate sees a veteran team brimming with talent, leadership and, most importantly, state potential. That was apparent in the district tournament, where his girls won three of the five singles titles and the No. 1 doubles championship.

"We should feel confident," said coach Poate, who will be staying with the team in Niceville for the 3:30 p.m. start while assistant coach Brian Braziel accompanies the boys to Pensacola for a 3 p.m. start. "The ultimate goal is not to just get past the semifinal but to win regionals."

But to do so, the Lady Eagles must first get past Tate, a squad coach Poate knows very little about outside of its runner-up finish in the District 1-3A tournament.

"Finishing second in the district, well obviously they're a good team," he said.

Carrying over to today will be the lineup from the district tournament – state-bound junior Sam Sepe in No. 1 single role, followed by district champions Maddie Hsiang and Alexis Hruby and then Andi VonHilsheimer and Antonia Poate.

The doubles teams will feature district champions Sepe and Antonia Poate in the No. 1 role and Maddie and Monica Hsiang in the No. 2 spot, but they won't play if the Lady Eagles hold serve in singles play.

"I'm really excited," said Sepe, a transfer from Georgia who will be making her first trip to regional play. "I'm ready for some more matches before state."

As for the Eagles, the favorite status is also there and for good reason based on a 7-0 sweep of Washington earlier in the season. But coach Poate would like to see a bit more humility from his team.

"The guys are a little younger and too confident," Coach Poate said. "We have to tone  that down and focus on bringing a fresh, new mindset.

"Washington first, Leon second."

Like the girls, the lineup from districts will carry over despite challenge matches taking place in Thursday. In the No. 1 spot will be 2013 state-qualifier PJ Shaw, followed by Gibson Holahan, Max Van Belkum, Nick Pizzolato and Behrens Watkins. Slotting in for doubles will be Shaw and Watkins in the No. 1 role and Holahan and Wyatt Coleman at No. 2.

Coach Poate expects Washington to "make some adjustments based on the first match," resulting in "a tough match."

"We're ready for the challenge ahead," Holahan said following the district tournament. "We're focused on advancing."

Reader comments posted to this article may be published in our print edition. All rights reserved. This copyrighted material may not be re-published without permission. Links are encouraged.

COMMENTS
▲ Return to Top