By Kyle LoJacono
The Land O’ Lakes boys tennis team lost its rock this season.
It lost its big force.
To put it bluntly, it lost arguably the best player that has ever come through the program in 6-foot-4 Colin Roller, a four-time state qualifier who signed to play at Division I East Carolina University following last year.
To further complicate things, two of the Gators’ projected top five has been severely limited by injuries. Junior Tyler Sanders re-injured a badly pulled hamstring suffered while playing soccer, and fellow junior Erik Thielbar is just returning from a broken toe.
The changeover has been large, but Land O’ Lakes (5-1) has a four-year playoff streak, has three district titles in the last four years and a state appearance as a team in 2010.
The Gators have no interest in taking a step back.
“We want to keep winning,” said sophomore Eric Lee. “I wouldn’t say it’s pressure. We just want to win and keep that title.”
Land O’ Lakes got an infusion of young talent from freshmen Samvit Iyer and Jeffrey Gu, who have filled in at Nos. 3 and 4, respectively. Third-year Gators coach Jasalyn Gerazounis said such additions have added an “aspect of competitiveness” to the squad.
“In the past when I set the lineup they kind of went with it,” Gerazounis said. “Now they want to fight for those positions. That’s nice to see.”
The transition has been made easier because sophomore David Dollbaum, Land O’ Lakes’ new No. 1, hit in the top slot for about half of last year when Roller was away because of his extremely demanding training schedule.
“I didn’t know he’d miss so many matches going into last year, so I thought it would be really hard on us now without Colin,” Gerazounis said. “Since he wasn’t there consistently last year, David played a lot at that No. 1 spot, so this isn’t new to him.”
Lee added, “I think David is a very good No. 1 for us. He did it a lot last year, and he’s gotten a lot better since last year.”
Dollbaum and Roller also qualified for the Class 3A state meet as a doubles team. They went 12-1 as a duo.
“I didn’t think I’d be going to states when I started the year,” Dollbaum said. “Colin really pushed me to get better, and it was really cool getting to states.”
Dollbaum has gone 5-1 at the No. 1 spot this year. He is realistic about replacing Roller as Land O’ Lakes’ ace, but does believe the squad can still compete at a high level.
“Last year was more centered toward the top, but this year it’s more spread out,” Dollbaum said. “I’m clearly not as good as Colin, but Chris (Mo) has gotten much better at No. 2, and we have really good freshmen who came in. That really helped even out the team.”
Gerazounis agreed: “I have a more evenly distributed team now. It was very Colin-heavy at the top when he was here. Now it’s not quite as distinct. Now it doesn’t just rest on one person. Before we were pretty much guaranteed two points with his singles and doubles. Now they know they have to step up just to get those points. They’re competitive guys and all want to win.”
Iyer said the commitment he saw from Day 1 showed him why the Gators are on a four-year playoff streak.
“Some of the teams don’t take it as seriously,” Iyer said. “We take it very seriously. We think we can win every time we play.”
Gu said that serious nature comes from Gerazounis.
“There’s a lot of hard work at practices and everyone wants to do well,” Gu said. “Coach puts a lot of conditioning into our practices, which is tough, but she also uses a lot of humor to keep it fun. She’s overall a good person, and she teaches us a lot.”
Gerazounis said she isn’t nervous about this year’s prospects.
“I do feel like there’s some unsaid expectation for myself, but I don’t put that on them,” Gerazounis said. “I do expect great things out of them because they are very talented. It is a pleasure to coach them.”
The Class 3A-District 6 tournament is at River Ridge April 1 and 2. Land O’ Lakes hosts Anclote March 12, followed by road matches against Sunlake March 13 and Wiregrass Ranch March 14.
—Follow Kyle LoJacono on Twitter: @Kyle_Laker
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