Last week's matches between Wiregrass Ranch and River Ridge went a long way toward determining the fate of the Sunshine Athletic Conference regular season.
The Wiregrass Ranch boys' victory over River Ridge announced that the Bulls have arrived in the SAC. On the girls' side, no school has been able to muster an answer to River Ridge's depth and talent. The Royal Knights are the top threat to make a long run in the postseason.
Teams wrap up the regular season this week and prepare for district tournament play beginning April 7.
WIREGRASS RANCH: The 12-1 boys team has done the unthinkable and has turned a second-year program into a Sunshine Athletic Conference regular-season champion. The Bulls will hold the title outright if they get past Ridgewood, their final opponent, on Thursday.
The boys team outlasted River Ridge 4-3 on Tuesday in a highly competitive match that came down to both doubles matches. The No. 2 doubles team of James Mudge and Logan Bursteiner rallied from 3-0 to tie the match at 6. They won the next two points, capturing at the least a share of the championship for the Bulls. Mudge and Mitchell Phelps captured singles wins at No. 3 and No. 5.
"Being in only our second year, it was a bigger step than I thought we would take. We were 5-7 with the same kids last year. It has been very rewarding for our team's hard work," Coach David Wilson said.
RIVER RIDGE: The girls team has beaten every opponent so far in the SAC and is 13-0 after wins over Wiregrass Ranch and South Lake last week. Barring an unlikely late-season collapse in their final matches this week against Pasco, Wesley Chapel and Sunlake, the girls will take the SAC with relative ease.
Tijana Subotic kept her winning streak alive and is the likely No. 1 seed going into the Class 3A-District 5 tournament. Subotic and her Royal Knights team are the favorites to win the district.
"The next hurdle is districts, and we are going to be ready. My concern is if we do win districts, it's what is out there afterward? Most of the kids have played in junior tournaments over the summer, so they are used to seeing different folks. The top three are used to seeing different opponents, so I think that will benefit them," Coach Doug Howery said.
RIDGEWOOD: The girls went 2-0 this week, beating Wesley Chapel 6-1 and Mitchell 4-3, improving to 8-5.
No. 2 Aleesa Williamson was scratched from Thursday's match against Mitchell, "leaving a gaping hole in the lineup," according to Coach Joe Kelly. Freshman Sarah Blank filled in at the No. 5 singles position and won her first varsity match. Her victory was the edge the Rams needed to beat the Mustangs.
Kelly said his team "needs to play over their heads" in the district tournament if it wants to capture a regional qualifying runner-up finish. But if No. 1 Tamara Bustard can make a go for the district final, it could set up a big rematch against likely top seed Subotic of River Ridge.
The girls will end their season with matches against Land O'Lakes and Wiregrass Ranch.
ZEPHYRHILLS: Lorraine Hinkle's 9-4 girls are "very excited about their winning record and are looking forward to the competition at districts."
No. 4 Caitlyn Ungerer is 9-4 in her first season in singles play for the Bulldogs, and both she and her team went 2-0 this week in their matches against Hudson and Wesley Chapel
Zephyrhills finishes its season against Mitchell and Land O' Lakes.
GULF: Even though they have a 2-5 record, girls coach Stephen Donaldson thinks his No. 4 and No. 5 players, Kassie Wills and Christa Goad, will make an impact in the upcoming district tournament. Goad has a 5-1 record at the No. 5 spot.