Wiregrass Ranch’s aces fall in state finals
By Kyle LoJacono
Wiregrass Ranch’s Courage Okungbowa and Star Makarome both finished as runner-up in the Class 4A state singles tournament April 17 in Altamonte Springs.
Okungbowa ends the season 21-1, while Makarome is 12-1. No other school in any class sent a boy and a girl to the singles finals.
“That shows that Wiregrass has put ourselves on the map in tennis” said Bulls boys coach and athletic director Dave Wilson. “We’re going to keep working to get better to get back here as a team and someday win the state title.”
For Okungbowa, a junior, the run to the boys championship match was redemption. Last year he entered states with the Bulls team undefeated, but lost in the first round.
“I didn’t think I was going to play this well, and it was a better experience than last year,” Okungbowa said. He then added, “I’m not happy, but it was a good season. I played my best.”
Makarome reached the finals despite being a freshman and 14 years old. She lost only three games all season entering states, but said the experience showed her she can improve.
“I learned I should go back and practice a lot,” Makarome said with a laugh. “I have to learn to meet power with power, and learn how to control the point especially against the bigger girls. I don’t see me coming in as a freshman as an excuse.”
Okungbowa received a first-round bye before defeating Royal Palm Beach’s Wade Ball 6-0, 6-3 in the quarterfinals and the top seeded Gainesville Buchholz’s Erik Vincent 3-6, 6-3, 6-3 in a three-hour semifinal. Vincent was the first player to take a set from Wiregrass Ranch’s ace.
He was unable to make it two comebacks in a row against Orlando Olympia’s Sebastian Beltrame, falling 6-1, 6-3. He staved off elimination by breaking Beltrame and winning his service game to get the score at 5-3 in the second, but it wasn’t enough.
“He’s got a really good serve,” Okungbowa said. “He really stayed consistent. That’s my problem is staying consistent. I can hit really good shots, but it’s like five out of 20.”
Wilson added, “It’s kind of hard to be prouder of him. Yesterday his battle was so tough. I think it took a lot out of his legs. … He had a great year. To be 21-1 and the state runner-up is a great year.”
Bulls girls coach Jewell Fye was also beaming about her star pupil.
“To be so good and get this far so young is amazing,” Fye said. “I knew she would make it to this point.”
Makarome bested Parkland Douglas’ Kellyn Abbanat 6-2, 6-3 in the first round before getting past Orlando Dr. Phillips’ Sarah Baron 7-5, 6-1 in the quarters. She made short work of the No. 1 seed Coral Gables’ Sonja Radosevic 6-1, 6-3 in the semis.
All that stood in Makarome’s way was Miramar Everglades’ Gabriela Castenda.
The freshman had never seen Castenda before, but soon learned she was more than a solid player.
“She was really aggressive and was hugging the baseline,” Makarome said. “It set me back on my game. I had to play defense for a long while until I could step into the point. Once I stepped into the point I hit winners, it was just getting a chance to control the point. … Gabby was just too good of a player today.”
Castenda was able to hit her returns deep into the opposite court, negating Makarome’s drop shot; one of her biggest weapons.
Makarome lost the first set 6-1, but made Castenda work in the second. The Wiregrass Ranch No. 1 lost her serve twice in her first three attempts, but managed to break her opponent back on the following game both times.
Castenda took the lead for good by breaking Makarome to put the score at 5-4 before serving for the match.
The day didn’t end with a state title, but Makarome and Okungbowa have more opportunities.
“I hope I’m able to get a title,” Okungbowa said. “I’ve got one more chance.”
Makarome added, “Hopefully in the next few years I can follow in Courage’s footsteps.”
CDS’s historic trip to states
Carrollwood Day Schools’ (CDS) first trip to states didn’t end with a championship, but the future is bright for the program.
The Patriots won a district and regional title this season, the first in school history for any sport, and all of the top four are sophomores or younger.
“It’s been very exciting for the girls and the coaching staff,” said CDS fourth-year coach Susan Most. “The girls played incredibly well all season. Just a great journey for all of us. I’m proud of how they performed at all levels.”
Freshman Jackie Fitz-Randolph reached the Class 1A No. 1 singles final, where she fell to Gainesville PK Young’s Jazz Whitaker 7-6 (2), 6-1 on April 19.
Jackie defeated Cantonment Ransom’s Sullivan Annette 2-6, 6-1, 6-3 in the quarterfinals before dispatching Boca Raton St. Andrews’ Caroline Hsu 6-0, 6-1 in the semis.
Jackie teamed with her sister Lauren, a seventh-grader, for No. 1 doubles. The siblings defeated PK Young 6-2, 6-4 in the quarters.
The Patriots’ run ended against Ransom in the semifinals April 19, falling 7-6 (5) 6-4. CDS fought off five match points to earn a break, which got the second set back on serve, but lost the next service game.
Most thinks the trip to states will motivate the squad.
“They’re hungry,” Most said. “They want to come back for more. They were able to experience that championship environment. They’re ready to come back and work harder.”
For the boys, Patriots junior Eric Fitz-Randolph, brother of Jackie and Lauren, lost his first match of the 1A singles tournament after receiving a bye in the first round.
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