By Kyle LoJacono
The winning streak for Wiregrass Ranch boys tennis stands at 29.
It includes almost two perfect regular seasons and two wins in the playoffs last year. It stretches back to the regional finals in 2010 when the Bulls (14-0) dropped a 4-3 match at Daytona Beach Mainland. They haven’t lost in the regular season since falling to Land O’ Lakes 4-3 on March 2, 2009.
“We take a lot of pride in that,” said Bulls coach Dave Wilson. “You can lose when it comes to tournament format at districts and state, but we’ve got a pretty good run going.”
Wiregrass Ranch does everything possible to stay focused during matches even though it is close to its second straight perfect regular season.
“Regardless of the match, whether we think it’s going to be easy or not, you have to do your best,” said senior Jaime Feliciano. “That’s all you can really control, and that’s how you get beat by just thinking you’re going to win.”
That dominance forces the Bulls to compete with each other to stay at top form.
“There’s a lot of competition amongst each other, but that’s really great,” said junior Koustubh Ramesh. “Basically we’re all fighting for the No. 2 spot, and I have that right now and want to keep it. Competing for No. 2 helps the whole team be great.”
Ramesh went no farther than competition for No. 2 because the top spot is basically set in stone for Courage Okungbowa. The junior is 32-1 in singles play since his family moved to the area from Virginia last season, losing his first match at states last year.
In fact, the Class 3A tournament was unkind to Wiregrass Ranch a year ago. Only Daniel Helfrich won a match at the event, but the trip gave the Bulls insight into the level of tennis needed to win a state championship.
“We learned that we have to play more competitive matches,” Courage said. “I think we took everything too easy, and then when we got to states the competition was great. We played Jesuit and won this year, and they’re a really competitive school, so we’re hoping that’ll help us.”
The trip to states was the first for the program in its six-year history. Jaime said the squad was a bit wide-eyed just winning a regional championship.
“It was insane,” Jaime said. “We knew we were a good team, but we could barely believe we won regionals to get there.”
The squad graduated only its No. 2 Spencer Ong, but the team is very different because of the additions of two freshmen. Jaime’s brother, Alejandro, is playing No. 3, while Courage’s brother, Foresight, is manning No. 5.
In addition, Ramesh went from playing only No. 2 doubles to second individually.
“We’re definitely above last year,” Wilson said. “I think our depth is much better. We have a lot of guys who can play. We didn’t really skip a beat, but the thing is they’re really focused this year. They come to practice for two hours and go with their other coach for another two. They know it’s going to take a lot to get through potentially Plant and Wharton just to get to state.”
Wharton and Plant are in Class 4A-District 6, the grouping Wiregrass Ranch would face if the program makes the playoffs. Wharton has made the playoffs each of the last four years, including three state championships from 2008-10, while Plant has made the postseason three of the last four seasons.
“The hardest thing is going to be just getting to states this year,” Wilson said. “Wharton and Plant are always in it for the state championship, so if you get through this region you may have a shot. Even then it comes down to your draw. At least this year they’ll know what to expect if we get to states.”
The squad relishes the opportunity to go through programs with established traditions so places outside Pasco County talk about the Bulls when thinking of high school tennis.
“In Pasco County I think if you asked anyone who’s the top tennis program the last four or five years our team comes up, but outside of here we really haven’t made a mark,” Wilson said. “If we can do that and get back to states then they’ll start to know about Wiregrass.”
The Bulls will play in the 4A-5 tournament hosted by Newsome at Riverhills Golf & Country Club, 3943 New River Hills Parkway in Valrico, April 2-3.