Youth has been served to the Academy of the Holy Names tennis team and they have returned quite nicely to say the least.
Case in point was last week’s Class 2A-District 10 tournament in which the Jaguars — who start two sophomores, two freshmen and an eighth-grader — won every match but one to win with 20 points, 11 ahead of Lakewood.
It was a performance that gave first-year Academy coach Sean Craft a great deal of hope moving toward today’s region semifinals where Academy will host Hardee at Hillsborough Community College.
“Our record wasn’t the best this season (5-6) because we played a lot of good teams and we only had our full squad together for two matches because of illnesses or injuries or some other unavoidable circumstance,” Craft said. “So to see us come together they way we did at district was really encouraging.
“Hopefully we can do what we need to do to get to state (which requires victories today and Thursday).”
Today, however, there is a sliver of doubt thrown in the mix because the Jaguars’ No. 1 player, Daniela Nasser, is competing in the USTA National Spring Championships in Palm Springs, Calif.
The hope for Academy is that it’s strong enough without Nasser to get by Hardee, so it can move on to Thursday’s match at full strength with Nasser. Nasser’s availability Thursday, however, depends on how she does earlier in the week at Palm Springs. If she keeps winning at national then she may not be around for Thursday either.
It’s a situation that has left Nasser with “mixed emotions.”
“I want to help my team because I love my team, but (national) is a big opportunity that I (committed to months ago),” Nasser said from California. “Hopefully I can get back and help them because I really do want to be with them.”
No matter what happens this week, Nasser will represent Academy at next week’s state tournament after qualifying with district titles at No. 1 singles and No. 1 doubles with sophomore partner Caroline Lozo.
Today, Lozo, who is a very strong player in her own right, will move into the No. 1 slot.
“I have plenty of confidence in our lineup,” Craft said. “I know everyone understands (Nasser’s opportunity to play at national) and we’ll just go out and give it everything we have.”
Craft, a tennis pro, said all the girls on Academy’s team — including first-year starting freshmen Olivia Rivas and Grayson Garraty and eighth-grader Grace Williams — have improved through the season and appear ready for the next test.
“I had no idea what to expect with these younger players coming to the team, but I have to say it’s been a great experience,” Craft said. “I think the girls see there is potential there for lots of success as a team for the next few years. There is a lot of energy out there.”
Nasser said, “I think everybody wants to work for it and that’s what it takes.”