By Gary Curreri, Sun Sentinel correspondent
West Boca High’s girls tennis coach Steve Pemberton said he is cautiously optimistic about his team’s first appearance at the FHSAA state tournament that begins Monday.
The Bulls best finish in its eight-year history was district runner-up until this season when it won the district and regional to advance to the Class 4A state tournament in Altamonte Springs.
“We were so thrilled,” said Pemberton, who has coached the team since its inception. “At the beginning of the season I was really focusing on districts with Boca Raton and Spanish River because we had to get through them first. They are obviously two of the best teams in the state…It is one step at a time really. The kids would ask me where we are in the standings and I would say, ‘I’ll let you know when it is over.’ I count the points when it’s over.”
Pemberton guided the Bulls’ boys’ tennis team to a third-place finish at state in 2007. He is counting on sophomore Julia Sbircea (No. 1), junior Summer Johnson (No. 2) and freshman Tiffany Vietro (No. 3) to earn important points for the team.
“I know the type and level of competition that is up there is very high and depending on the draw, we could surprise some people up there,” Pemberton said. “It’s a young team. We have our hopes. I feel like we have three number ones. We are that strong at 1-2-3.”
It’s been 22 years since both the boys and girls’ tennis teams from St. Andrew’s went to the state tournament together. They both won state championships that year and coach Scott Williams is hopeful they can repeat the feat again as they play in the 1A competition.
“This is the deepest boys team we have had here,” said Williams, whose boys team defeated last year’s Class 1A state champions, Sagemont twice and earned a regular season victory over Class 4A state champ, Spanish River this season. “We have had a lot of obstacles in American Heritage-Delray and Boca Prep, who were both (tennis) academy fed. In 2000, we had Andy Roddick and Mardy Fish from Boca Prep playing against us. We’ve played a lot of good competition over the years.”
Williams said the team’s 4-3 loss in midseason to Boca Raton helped motivate the Scots for a solid run at the state tournament. Seniors Tony Russell and Nick Mill have led the team this year. The girls’ team, who graduated Sun Sentinel Small Schools Player of the Year Rebecca Siegler (Wake Forest), returns 7 of its 12 state champions from last year’s state champion. Sophomore Caroline Hsu is the team’s No. 1 player.
“Anyone who can make it through this district and this region is truly battling through the toughest competition in the United States,” Williams said. “To win states is a mountain that I personally can’t move. It will take a team effort on both their parts.”
Spanish River’s boys are hopeful of defending their Class 4A state title. The veteran Sharks are pretty much intact except last year’s No. 1 Nate Shanok (UNC Charlotte), who graduated from last year’s state championship squad. Tate Allwardt (sophomore), Bryan Slootsky (junior) and Zack Gross (senior) all return.