The Hernando Leopards Varsity Girls Tennis team fell to McKeel Academy 5-0 Thursday afternoon in the quarterfinals of the FHSAA Class 2A Girls State Finals in Orlando.
Despite the early exit from the finals, Hernando’s place at the tournament was unique enough. According to Leopards Head Coach April Brown, “there are a lot of private schools, a lot of charter schools that made the quarterfinals. Only a few public schools made the quarterfinals.” The team’s presence at the event was due to them logging an impressive regular season.
The Leopards went 10-1 in their district before defeating Mount Dora 6-1 in the Class 2A District 6 Tournament. The Purple and Gold then went on to best Crystal River for the third time this season, winning the regional final 4-3 at home.
Even though the season did not end with a victory, Coach Brown was extremely pleased with the team’s effort throughout the year. “I’m proud of each of them for just putting 100 percent effort in every day… practice when they’re not at school,” Coach Brown said. “They practice on the weekends by themselves. So, they do a lot.”
The team showed determination and went on a nine-game winning streak before their loss to McKeel. This was in the face of adversity throughout the season, as the Leopards were unable to practice on their home tennis courts. Over the weeks, the team found itself needing to use a number of different tennis courts. The Purple and Gold were even forced to relinquish the courts at Hernando Park mid-match during their first bout against Crystal River.
The challenges persisted as the squad had to relocate to the courts at Bud McKethan Park and a player had her wallet stolen after her car had been broken into. Soon afterwards, it was time for another change in venue. Fortunately for the Leopards, Southern Hills allowed them to play a match against Central High School on their clay courts. Coach Brown hopes the team is able to resume consistent play on the school’s courts next year.
Moving on to the players, Coach Brown was effusive in her praise of one of her seniors. “Breane Carter is just a phenomenal player. So, she just is a smart tennis player. She doesn’t even take specific tennis lessons… [She] has natural talent, she’s good at it and she’s a smart, smart player.” Carter garnered honors as Hernando’s player of the match on MaxPreps during the district tournament and went a perfect 15-0 on the season in singles.
However, while Carter might be the name you know, assistant coach Laurie Horne might have been the Leopards’ secret weapon this season and for the future. According to Coach Brown, Horne gives her time to the Leopards despite not receiving a paycheck for her services to the team, and those services are quite extensive.
“[Horne] is out there every single day at practice helping these kids and she went to states on her own time to help us,” said the Leopards’ head coach. “They wouldn’t be doing half of what they’re doing if it was just up to me. She really deserves the credit.”