By Kyle LoJacono
It took an extra day and tiebreakers, but the Land O’ Lakes boys and girls tennis teams earned playoff berths at the Class 3A-District 6 tournament on April 4.
The boys won their third district championship in four years by defeating runner-up Springstead 4-2.
The girls had a tougher road, needing to beat Leesburg and Central to claim the runner-up position. The Gators rose to the challenge, winning 4-0 and 4-2 to earn the final playoff spot.
“I guess we’re good at tiebreakers,” said Land O’ Lakes No. 1 boys player Colin Roller.
The boys also needed tiebreakers to win titles in 2009 and 2010, then defeating Wesley Chapel. They took 14 points in districts thanks to finals wins at Nos. 1, 2 and 5 along with No. 1 doubles, which included Roller and David Dollbaum.
The Gators’ duo was broken twice in the first set but fought back to win 6-4, 6-1 over Mitchell. Roller ended the match with an ace, qualifying the doubles team for states.
“That serve was a bullet,” Dollbaum said. “That was really fast. As for states, I didn’t know I was qualifying for states right there. I had Colin as a partner, so it’s kind of like free pass. He’s so good and he always makes it to states.”
Roller, an Eastern Carolina University commit, also earned a berth in states individually for the fourth time by winning 6-0, 6-1 in the final over Springstead. The 6-foot-4 senior was suffering from soreness in his right shoulder brought on by overuse and weightlifting. It was so bad he had to serve underhand the first day of districts.
“It only really hurt on the serving motion,” Roller said. “Everything else was fine, so when I tried serving normal today it felt good and I just went with it.”
Dollbaum saw more pressure on April 3, the second day of districts. He faced Springstead’s No. 2 in the final needing a victory to force the tiebreaker. A loss would give the Eagles the title.
Dollbaum won the first set 6-2 and had a match point at 6-4, but his opponent took a medical break. The 15-minute delay didn’t slow the freshman, as he smashed an ace on his first serve after the timeout.
“I always focus on getting my first serve in as hard as I can,” Dollbaum said. “I was just happy it was over. It was weird to have the delay. … I don’t think I’ll ever forget that happened at match point.”
Land O’ Lakes won three of five singles matches, played as pro sets, in the tiebreaker and the Roller-Dollbaum combination took care of business 8-1 in doubles to clinch the championship.
The boys went into the tiebreaker knowing they already had a playoff spot regardless of the outcome. The girls had no such fallback.
Zephyrhills won the 3A-6 title with 14 points, while Land O’ Lakes, Leesburg and Central had seven forcing a three-way tiebreak for the runner-up spot and a playoff berth.
The Gators and Leesburg were selected in a blind draw to play the first of two tiebreakers. A win only ensured Land O’ Lakes would have to beat Central after a 30-minute break to advance.
The Gators didn’t back down and defeated Leesburg 4-0 before dispatching Central 4-2, a team that bested Land O’ Lakes 4-3 in the regular season.
“I think we really rose to the challenge,” said Anne Schwartz. “Needing to win really brought the best out of us.”
Schwartz played No. 5 for the Gators because their usual No. 4 Joslyn Lafond sprained her ankle the week before districts. The freshman played four singles matches to start the year before dropping out of the top five.
Schwartz was the least experienced Land O’ Lakes player but showed veteran poise in her match against Central. She fought back from 0-40 to force deuce with the match at 9-8 and converted a break point to win 10-8.
“Anne’s match turned the tide when they saw we were up 3-2,” said Land O’ Lakes girls coach Samantha DelValle. “She fought so hard to win, and I think they knew they could do this.”
The Gators also got a lift from No. 1 player Linzi Arndt. The senior strained her right thigh in her 8-3 victory against Leesburg.
Linzi used the time between tiebreakers to treat the injury. She jumped out to a 4-0 lead, but Central converted two break points to even the match 6-6.
“It started getting into my head that I couldn’t run, and the other girl was playing really well,” Linzi said. “Coach told me I had to win. I said ‘OK we’ll see what happens.’”
Linzi answered Central’s second break with one of her own before holding serve to win 8-6.
“She came today with an attitude to win,” DelValle said. “Even though she was injured she was going to win. She wanted to do everything possible in her 30-minute break to make sure she was feeling better, and she did that. She said the pain was so bad she didn’t feel it anymore.”
Linzi teamed with her sister, Cori, in doubles. Land O’ Lakes took a 7-4 lead, giving the younger Arndt a chance to serve for the match and to clinch the tiebreaker.
“Serving might not be my favorite thing in the world, but knew I could do it,” said Cori, a sophomore. “I wanted to make my coach proud and get this match over with.”
Mastering the tiebreakers means the Gators boys and girls both play in the postseason for the second straight year.
“I think it’s building a tradition,” DelValle said. “The girls want to come back and work over the summer to continue to get better so hopefully next year we can be district champions. It just helps the school in general to have both the boys and girls going on.”
The boys host Ocala Forest in the regional semifinals, while the girls travel to Forest. Both matches are on April 10 at 3 p.m.
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