In the case of the Gainesville High girls' tennis team, quitting was never an option, and the Hurricanes can prove it.
The team found out just before the season that it would be without juniors Keri Frankenberger and Casey Simmons, both previous state champions, because their national tournament schedules conflicted with the high school season. It was a difficult loss, but one that fueled the Hurricanes.
“They sort of figured, ‘Hey, we’re going to go out and show everybody that we can win districts on our own,’” said GHS coach Cathy Lewis. “I think they went into districts with that sort of attitude. They decided that they were going to tough it out and it was their district to win.”
That’s exactly what the Hurricanes did, taking the District 4-3A trophy and earning the right to host Jacksonville Wolfson at Northside Park today at 3 p.m. in a Region 2-3A quarterfinal match.
The team also worried that it could be without No. 4 player, senior Preetika Pai, who began to feel some pain in her right wrist last June. It turned out that the injury only forced her to become a better all-around player.
“I figured that I didn’t want to completely stop playing tennis,” said Pai, who has been told that the injury is either a ligament tear or a buildup of fluid. “So what I did was go on days when we didn’t have practice or practice matches to Westside (Park) and just pick up a racket and start hitting left-handed. I got pretty good at it. Then I would go into our practice matches and start serving and hitting forehands left-handed and I kept getting better.”
She got so good at switch-hitting that she found her opponents would get thrown off during matches, not knowing what her weaknesses were because of her changing. Pai has surgery planned next month to correct the injury, which she says flares up whenever she moves her wrist from side-to-side and lasts for at least two minutes each time.
After a 9-6 regular season, Lewis thinks her team is peaking at the right time. She says her No. 1 player, senior Tavenner Black, is playing her best tennis of the season and is prepared for the regional matches. The rest of the team, No. 2 Katie Olson, No. 3 Allison Chasteen and No. 5 Melissa Sheldon, all seniors, understand that any loss means the end of their high school tennis career.
“We’re always trying to shoot for the best that we can do,” Pai said. “We worked with what we’ve got and we made it pretty far. For regionals, we want to try to win every match. Our goal is to win it, but it’s going to be a lot harder than districts.”
Lewis thinks her team is strong enough, and has built up enough unity, to stand through the challenge.
“I am very, very proud of this team because they hung together,” Lewis said. “It started off as a tough season, but if anything, it probably made them a stronger team and they’ve been more team oriented.”