After a sophomore campaign that yielded an undefeated mark in regular season dual matches and being named Sunshine Athletic Conference Eastside Girls Tennis Player of the Year, Land O’ Lakes High School’s Courtney Piltaver has even bigger goals in sight this season.
The junior is eyeing a 6-3A district title.
“I’m hoping to win districts this year,” she said.
Beyond that, Piltaver is hoping for a deep run in the Florida High School Athletic Association state series, at regionals and possibly a state qualification.
In doing so, Piltaver must first avenge last season’s defeat in the district finals — a back-and-forth battle to East Lake’s Marissa Penning, who’s currently ranked among the state’s top 25 sophomores by Tennis Recruiting Network.
“It was like a really close match; it was a good, long one,” Piltaver recalled.
Penning, however, transferred schools and is not competing at the high school circuit this year, said Piltaver, who often trains and plays with the Clearwater sophomore in high-level USTA junior tournaments.
That could open the door for an elusive district crown and maybe more.
“I’m not sure if there’s any other competition coming out of East Lake, because typically a lot of good players come from there, so hopefully I can make it to the states,” Piltaver said.
Of course, Piltaver would again like to repeat as east Pasco’s Girls Tennis Player of the Year and garner all-conference first-team honors. “That’d be nice,” she quipped.
Piltaver said winning the awards last year “made me feel good, like I accomplished something that I worked really hard towards, so it was just another thing that made me feel good about all the work I put into tennis.”
She’s certainly on the right track again, with a 4-0 mark on the 2019 season.
“I’m hoping to stay undefeated this (regular) season,” she said, “which I’m thinking I will.”
The tennis standout has the work ethic to back up her play.
In addition to regular high school practices and matches, Piltaver trains five days a week at the Dobsha Tennis Academy in Odessa, where she fine tunes technical skills, including serves and footwork; on weekends, she competes in high-level USTA (United States Tennis Association) junior tournaments.
When it comes to the court, Piltaver means business, said Land O’ Lakes girls tennis coach Jen Gaete.
“She’s really focused; you can see the high energy,” Gaete said. “She does have that wanting to pursue, wanting to chase the dreams.
“She’s really just driven by the sport and wanting to do well,” the coach added.
Gaete also noted Piltaver is quick to give her teammates positive feedback and pointers during matches, offering in-game strategy and reminding less experienced players about techniques, such as proper racket grip, court positioning and so on.
“She’s always willing,” Gaete said. “She helps me with a lot of those leadership roles and wanting to give the girls some coaching.”
Gaete went on: “She’s encouraging of the others. It’s always about being a part of the team.”
Handling the grind of the sport comes naturally for Piltaver, who’s been playing tennis nine-plus years.
“I just love playing, I love competing,” Piltaver said, “and, I just like to challenge myself, and I think that has like really helped me with life skills. Yeah, it gets hard sometimes but, honestly, I just love doing something. Like, it’s really become my life.”
Besides her all-around tennis skillset, Piltaver said her biggest strides of late have come from upping her physical fitness and mental focus — areas that have come in handy during long, drawn-out matches in the Florida heat.
“I feel like I have the body and the mentality to be an athlete, and I think that’s really the thing that’s gotten me so far, said Piltaver, who’s ranked among the state’s top 80 players for the 2020 recruiting class by Tennis Recruiting Network. “When matches get really tough I’m able to stay in it and not lose focus, which is something really important.”
She added, “The sun out here is really horrible, so just being able to endure that for two hours and play another match after that definitely was a big jump.”
Mental and physical strength also helped her recover from a pair of back injuries in recent years.
Early on in her freshman season, Piltaver suffered a grade 3 back strain. She was only able to compete in one high school match and therefore ineligible for postseason play.
“It’s weird because I’ve never been injured and then all of a sudden I hurt my back and then I was out for like five months because it was really bad,” Piltaver said, noting it took another few months to get back to her regular form. “Once you get past the struggle point you’re like, ‘OK,’ and then you start taking off.”
And, before the start of this season, Piltaver was in a car accident, sustaining pulled ligaments in her back.
A less serious injury compared to her freshman year, Piltaver was only sidelined her for a couple weeks before returning to action; she said she now feels 100 percent.
“I’m fine,” Piltaver said. “I think it was just sore. I needed to let my body rest.”
Now fully healthy, Piltaver is looking to play in as many USTA junior tournaments as possible —in addition to her high school slate — to prepare for what lies ahead at the next level, as one of very few tennis players from Pasco County receiving offers to play collegiate tennis.
Piltaver’s actively going through the college recruiting process and considering multiple NCAA Division II schools, including Belmont-Abbey College, Barton College, University of Montavello, Limestone College, and North Greenville University, to name a few.
Piltaver said she’s considering Division II schools “mostly because I feel like academics is important, and I just feel like they have the better academic side that I was looking for.”
Said Piltaver, “I’m trying to get my officials visits in September, so I can sign in early fall, because that’s really what I’m looking toward.”
Published March 27, 2019