Makarome, Chaffin finish as semifinalists
By Kyle LoJacono
The Wiregrass Ranch boys tennis team tied for fourth at the Class 4A state tournament April 17 to 18 at Sanlando Park in Altamonte Springs.
The Bulls totaled four points, the same amount as Spanish River. Wiregrass Ranch coach Dave Wilson said his squad played much better than when they won just one match during the seven-year program’s first state appearance in 2011.
“Four of the guys lost to state champions, and they played them tougher than anyone else here, and Foresight (Okungbowa) and Alejandro (Feliciano) took it to three sets,” Wilson said. “We got a really tough draw and hit some roadblocks along the way, but we’re many steps ahead of when we were here two years ago. Our point total moved up. We finished tied for seventh last time, and we’ve got at least two more years with almost everyone.”
Wilson noted that all five of his players brought in at least a point for the team, either in singles or doubles play, and reached a semifinals match.
The lone graduating senior is ace Courage Okungbowa (20-1). The FAMU signee ends his three years with the program, 60-3, with all three losses coming in the state tournament.
Wilson said it’s hard to fully quantify what Courage has meant to the Bulls the last three years.
“He is our program,” Wilson said. “He’s the one who’s made everybody else’s life easier. He goes out there and always gets his point at No. 1, and that helps take the pressure off everyone else. I think the biggest thing is his calm demeanor on the court and how he carries himself off the court. He’s just so even keeled and so focused, and that changes the other players’ game because of it. They all aspire to get to his level, and he sets the tone for how everyone acts.”
Courage, a three-time state qualifier, lost his quarterfinals contest to Coral Gables’ Alfredo Perez 6-1 6-2. He said he didn’t feel any pressure coming into the match or the tournament despite it being his last as a high school player.
“It was a really tough draw,” Courage said. “I gave it my best, and I can’t be disappointed because I know it was my best.”
Courage reached the 4A singles championship match last year, but said it was a better experience having his whole team with him at states this season.
Wilson, who is also Wiregrass Ranch athletic director, said he is “pleased” with the program’s development.
“I don’t think that there’s any question that in our area we are the place to play if you want to be on a good tennis team,” Wilson said. “We’ve been fortunate with the good players coming in that seem to all have brothers, and that’s helped keep the program at the top. We’ll keep battling until we win a state title. … It used to be winning conference was the goal. Now it’s winning districts and regionals to get to the state tournament.”
The Bulls girls No. 1 player Star Makarome (11-1) reached the state singles semifinals before falling 6-4, 6-2 to Orlando Dr. Phillips’ Alizee Michaud.
“I’ve played her before, and I won in three sets, so I knew it was going to be a tough match going in,” Makarome said. “It was her day. She played really well.”
Makarome was the No. 1 seed in the event, but was battling a right calf strain suffered a few days before the event. She also had her serve, which is one of the sophomore’s biggest weapons, broken four times in the match.
“Serve was just a little off,” Makarome said. “Maybe I was putting a bit too much into it. She was able to pressure my serve the whole match, and I think that’s what caused it to happen.”
Makarome was joined at states with her doubles teammate Tiffany Garner for the second straight year. The duo lost their opening match 6-4, 6-0.
“The first year there were a lot of nervous, but that really calmed down,” Garner said. “It was a lot of fun getting back here. … This is our second time and we’ve got two more years, so that’s exciting because a lot of the kids here are juniors and seniors.”
Wharton ace Sam Chaffin (12-3) reached the boys 4A state semifinals before losing 6-2, 6-1 to Orlando Boone’s Sam Lampman, the No. 1 seed.
“He has a big serve, was relatively consistent and hits a heavy ball,” Chaffin said. “It was difficult to control. I didn’t play my best, which is a little disappointing. I had quite a few shots that I usually make that weren’t going in. … It was really close. Most of the games went 40-30 or deuce in every game throughout the whole match. Most games were relatively close. I just couldn’t close out as many games as him.”
First-year Wildcats coach Scott Ware said Chaffin has impressed him all season.
“I remember watching him playing his teammates, and I just remember thinking this is some good tennis,” Ware said. “He’s improved all year. He was struggling with some injuries, but it’s great to see him come here and get the experience of playing in the semifinals. He’ll be back next year as a senior, and hopefully he’ll keep improving and be even better.”
—Follow Kyle LoJacono on Twitter: @Kyle_Laker