James Mudge is all business about Wiregrass Ranch tennis.
The new No. 1 is not motivated by the Bulls' memorable regular season. Nor the thrilling 4-3 victory against River Ridge in the final match or the Sunshine Athletic Conference title that came with it. It is the one-point loss to Nature Coast in the district tournament last year that has set Mudge and his team on a mission to not let it happen again.
"Knowing that we have become a lot better overall, the district championship is definitely within our reach," Mudge said.
In two years, the Bulls went from a 5-7 doormat to a 13-1 powerhouse. Mudge and former No. 1 James Reilly helped establish Wiregrass as a tennis school. Mudge won the No. 3 singles district championship and the No. 2 doubles district championship. However, the team came up short in the difficult district, where Nature Coast and Hernando are the perennial contenders.
The tough loss prompted Mudge and Reilly to play tennis with each other throughout the summer. They extended invitations to their teammates, and by then they were maintaining the chemistry they developed during their breakout season as well as working on fundamentals.
"We all went out together to Meadow Point Clubhouses and we would hit around. I think it really got us prepared for the season," Mudge said.
Mudge said developing bonds with his teammates would help the team maintain an even temperament.
"Being able to know everyone and being friends, it definitely helps us in a positive way. We always try to help each other out when players are struggling," Mudge said.
To prepare for this season, Mudge worked on his second serve. The recent acquisition of ball machines by Wiregrass Ranch has allowed him to work on returning service. He said his goal this season is to improve net play, and his teammates are instrumental in helping him develop as a player. Mudge is equally concerned with helping his team improve this year.
"Our team has to improve on fundamentals. First serves are the main focus. Also, our emotions and the way we show ourselves on the court," Mudge said.
Mudge said he is not making any guarantees of postseason success, but he is sure about his team's attitude toward continuing its success.
"We are determined. Everyone has the determination to do well in the spot they are in. We are able to build off each other," Mudge said.