By Kyle LoJacono
The Wiregrass Ranch boys tennis team did something it’s grown accustomed to in winning the program’s fourth straight district championship at home April 3 — dominate.
The Bulls won all five singles and two doubles titles to earn the maximum 21 points in the six-team Class 4A-District 5 tournament, besting second-place Plant City by seven. The Raiders matched up with Wiregrass Ranch in the seven finals.
“This is what you’re hoping happens, but to once again not drop a set anywhere is even more impressive,” said Wiregrass Ranch coach Dave Wilson. “We haven’t lost a set in any match this year. … To win four district titles in a row, that says we’re almost as good as our girls cross country teams, who I think has won the last five.”
The district title sends the seventh-year program to the playoffs for the sixth straight season.
The closest contest was at No. 1 singles where Courage Okungbowa (18-0) won 7-5, 6-2. The FAMU signee had to get by training partner Harrison Heysek for his third straight district title.
“It was just a matter of staying in the point because we know each other,” Courage said.
Courage was ahead 5-2 in the first and had a couple set points at 5-4, including one with an open court that he hit into the net when one of his strings broke. Heysek tied the contest 5-5 and had a chance to take his first lead, but the senior hit a forehand long and opened the door for Courage to earn an individual spot in states regardless of how the team does in regionals.
“I was the last one still playing, so I felt like there was a lot riding on me because I didn’t want to be the only one to not win,” said Courage, the 4A state singles runner-up last season. “I was actually thinking about who I was playing and the fact that I was going for my third district title, so I was doing a bunch of superstitious stuff. … I had my bag in the same spot. I put my clothes and shoes in the same spot as I did yesterday. I really wanted to be focused for this.”
Sophomore Foresight Okungbowa, Courage’s brother, had the only 6-0, 6-0 singles win on the second day to claim the No. 5 title. Fellow sophomore Alejandro Feliciano won at No. 4, 6-1, 6-1.
Courage teamed with freshman Agie Moreno to win the No. 1 doubles championship, earning the duo a state berth.
Moreno, the No. 2 singles champ (6-2, 6-1), is part of a freshman duo in the Bulls top five with No. 3 Niels van Dam, who won his title 6-0, 6-3.
“We’re definitely a step ahead, especially with the freshmen who came in,” Foresight said. “Those new guys have been a big impact. We lost two seniors, but gained some really good freshmen.”
That depth is what van Dam said has pushed them to get better.
“To move up and stay with the others you have to get better yourself,” van Dam said. “Courage is our star, and we’re trying to get to his level.”
Moreno called it an “honor” to be on the squad because “this could be one of the best teams the school has ever had, and maybe even in Pasco County. We know it’s a possibility that this is our year.”
Wilson points out that the road to the program’s second regional title won’t be easy because they have to get through Plant, Wharton and/or Plant City to reach states. The Wildcats defeated the Bulls in the first round last year.
“Over the last five years Wharton has won three state titles, and Plant has gotten to the state tournament the last two years,” Wilson said.
Feliciano said they are “a step ahead” of last season and thinks, “we have a better chance of winning this year. The players are more confident, and we’ve practiced a lot more this year.”
Wilson said they do have one big advantage.
“Right now our kids don’t know how to lose, so they expect to win when they go in,” Wilson said. “That’s half the battle.”
Wiregrass Ranch hosts Plant April 9 in the regional semifinals at 3 p.m. A victory would pit the Bulls with the winner of the Wharton-Plant City match April 11 for a spot at states.
//Bulls girls advance as runner-up
Wiregrass Ranch girls tennis was unable to win consecutive district titles, finishing as the Class 4A-District 5 runner-up to Newsome 17-16.
The Bulls got victories over the Wolves at Nos. 1 and 2 singles from sophomores Star Makarome (6-0, 6-0) and Victoria Chavez (6-1, 6-1) and No. 1 doubles, but Newsome took the Nos. 3, 4 and 5 singles titles for the one-point win.
“The girls have worked so hard to replace those three seniors we lost,” said Wiregrass Ranch coach Jewell Fye. “We didn’t win districts, but we’re going on to regionals, and that’s a great accomplishment.”
Makarome (9-0) earned consecutive individual state berths regardless of how the squad does in regionals. She has lost only two games all year.
“I was just hoping to qualify for states automatically like I did last year,” said Makarome, who finished as the 4A singles runner-up as a freshman. “The kids I played have improved so much from when I played them last year, so I knew it was going to be a tough match. The score doesn’t reflect the play in between. There were a lot of points that were long, and I just happen to convert on some of the bigger points.”
Makarome had to battle in an opening game that lasted more than 15 minutes and faced game point twice but fought back to get the early break that appeared to give her momentum.
“That was a bit unnerving in the beginning, but I settled down and got my game back,” Makarome said. “It’s always good to play tough games earlier to settle in for me.”
Makarome teamed with sophomore Tiffany Garner, the squad’s third ranked player, to win consecutive No. 1 doubles titles 6-1, 6-2 and earn a state berth. Makarome said the duo has “chemistry” together in more than one way.
“We literally have chemistry class together too,” Makarome said. “I didn’t really know her until last year, but we’ve become really good friends from the experience of going to states last year, so I’m really happy we can go again.”
The Bulls play at Plant April 9 in the regional semifinals at 3 p.m. They would travel to Newsome or host Wharton if they get by the Panthers.
—Follow Kyle LoJacono on Twitter: @Kyle_Laker
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