Gators remain consistent amid coaching turnover
By Kyle LoJacono
The Land O’ Lakes boys tennis team has become accustomed to district championships during the last three seasons.
The Gators (5-1) lost only one regular season match in 2009 and then went a perfect 12-0 en route to the Class 2A-District 6 championship last year. Land O’ Lakes has done that despite having three different coaches in as many seasons.
Shawn McGee led the squad in 2009, but left to take a full time job at Saddlebrook Resort in Wesley Chapel. Shannon Aitken, a Land O’ Lakes graduate, took over on short notice in 2010, but had no previous tennis coaching experience.
“Shannon was a very successful athlete,” said Gators No. 1 player Colin Roller. “She won a soccer state championship, so she knew how to get physically ready to compete and about the mental side.”
In steps Jasalyn Gerazounis, who played and coached tennis at Carlow University in Pittsburgh. She relishes the challenge of taking over a successful program.
“It’s exciting,” Gerazounis said. “We had a lot of seniors, so they graduated. We definitely want to maintain the same level of success. It’s more difficult losing a lot of seniors, but we have a lot of talented freshmen coming in and we have a strong team. Each individual player brings something different to the table.”
Roller said it has been difficult to deal with three different coaches, but sees the positives as well.
“It’s tough having three coaches, but it keeps you on your toes,” Roller said. “One coach wants this and another coach wants that. You don’t know what coach you might have in college, so it helps you adapt. It helps you learn how to understand different patterns.”
The players all said Gerazounis is a good coach, but very tough.
“I just want them to expand their skill set and become better players this year,” Gerazounis said. “Get some experience and hopefully continued success. They’re doing well. I’m really proud of them. Every match they’re better than the last.”
One common theme is evident from the players and coach — footwork wins matches.
“I guess everyone could have better footwork,” Gerazounis said. “You can always run and play for a point a little bit better.”
Marnix Groenendijk, a junior, said of Gerazounis’ focus, “She’s really stressing our footwork. She lets us know it’s all about footwork.”
Roller is the only returning top-five player for Land O’ Lakes. For the most part, only the top-five players get into matches in high school tennis. Gerazounis said she is leaning on Roller as a leader.
“He’s our team captain,” Gerazounis said. “He’s our go-to guy. He always pulls through. He’s very talented.”
Roller, a junior, has yet to lose an individual match in the regular season in high school. He reached states alone as a freshman and helped guide the Gators to the event as a team last year.
“It was a lot of fun to go individually, but it was a lot better to go as a team,” Roller said. “We had the whole team, parents and coach. We didn’t expect to win the whole thing, but we went to try out best to win.”
Joining Roller in the top five are Groenendijk, Alex Wong, Harrison Luong and Erik Thielbar, a freshman.
“There wasn’t any intimidation joining a good team,” Thielbar said, who came from Pine View Middle. “I just came in and played.”
Tyler Sanders, also a freshman, also gets into matches on the No. 2 doubles team.
“We’ve got two great freshmen and they fit right in to what we did last year,” Roller said. “It’s like they’ve been on the team the last three years.”
That mix seems to be working, as the Gators have only lost to Gulf this year.
“It’s kind of a rebuilding year,” Groenendijk said. “We’re not great, but were doing pretty well. We’ve won a lot of matches and I’m actually surprised we’re doing so well.”
Groenendijk was the No. 6 player at the end of last season.
“I’ve been training a lot,” Groenendijk said. “I wanted to get good enough to get into matches. I worked a lot on my backhand and my footwork. About the middle of the season last year I decided I wanted to be in the top five. I wanted to get there, and I was going to do anything to get to the top five.”
Luong has a similar story of determination to get into the top five, but he worked his way up from the No. 10 spot last year.
“It feels great,” said Luong of getting into the top five. “During the summer I worked much harder to get better. I worked on everything.”
The Gators will compete in the 2A-6 tournament is the week of April 4-8 at Wesley Chapel.