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HomeSportsHernando Girls Tennis Rolls to District Title

Hernando Girls Tennis Rolls to District Title

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CRYSTAL RIVER — In a district tournament where the top two teams clearly separated themselves from the field, Hernando High left no doubt who would leave with the championship trophy.

Clinching the team title before the doubles finals even began, the Leopards earned gold medals at six of the seven lineup positions to cruise to first place in the District 2A-6 Tournament, played Tuesday and Wednesday at Crysal River.

Hernando ended up collecting 20 wins, including some first-round byes, well ahead of Citrus in second at 13. Central was a distant third with six victories, followed by Nature Coast (5) and Weeki Wachee (4).

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“They’re special,” Hernando head coach April Brown said. “They’re friends on the court, off the court. They talk a lot. They go out together. They’re like genuinely a team.”

There was little drama left upon the conclusion of the singles finals that started the day. Hernando and Citrus players went head-to-head in four of them, with the Leopards winning three.

At No. 3 singles, Serena Huber downed Grace Berlin of the Hurricanes, 6-4, 6-4. Annabelle Chamberlain did the same in the No. 4 final against Sharon Esteche from Citrus, 6-1, 6-4. Those four faced off again in the No. 2 doubles final, won by the Hernando duo, 6-2, 6-3.

Serena Huber of Hernando High returns a shot during a No. 2 doubles match during the District 2A-6 Tournament on Wednesday in Crystal River. Photo by Chris Bernhardt Jr.
Serena Huber of Hernando High returns a shot during a No. 2 doubles match during the District 2A-6 Tournament on Wednesday in Crystal River. Photo by Chris Bernhardt Jr.

“I think we did pretty good,” said the senior Huber. “We’re close out of tennis, too. We play other sports together. I think our talking is what gets us the ‘dub,’ the win.”

“Last year, I lost my No. 2 doubles in the finals. But it feels great to win it with Serena,” the junior Chamberlain said. “I think just because of how much we talk. We talk a lot and we were getting in their heads, too, as we were talking. We were having fun, basically.
“I thought I played well (in the singles final). My serves were a little off, but I still won.”

Hernando's Annabelle Chamberlain returns a shot during a No. 2 doubles match in the District 2A-6 Tournament on Wednesday in Crystal River. Photo by Chris Bernhardt Jr.
Hernando’s Annabelle Chamberlain returns a shot during a No. 2 doubles match in the District 2A-6 Tournament on Wednesday in Crystal River. Photo by Chris Bernhardt Jr.

Their fun-loving relationship was on display as Huber evaluated her singles performance, with Chamberlain chuckling as she said, “Oh, she ate that up.”

“God, that’s what got me through it. I don’t know how I did it, but I’m grateful,” Huber said. “It’s only my second year playing, so I’m surprised I got this far.”

They’ll have an opportunity to play in regionals with a chance of advancing to states. The No. 1 doubles combination of Jackie Cuevas and Mia Liu already have that assured after downing Malena Hamilton and Hannah Hughes of Citrus in the finals, 6-3, 6-4. It’s their second straight season reaching states.

Hernando High's Jackie Cuevas serves during a No. 1 doubles match on Wednesday in the District 2A-6 Tournament at Crystal River. Photo by Chris Bernhardt Jr.
Hernando High’s Jackie Cuevas serves during a No. 1 doubles match on Wednesday in the District 2A-6 Tournament at Crystal River. Photo by Chris Bernhardt Jr.

“I’m happy for them. I’m happy that they’ll have the experience (of going to states),” Brown said. “It’s Jackie’s senior year. I’m happy that she gets to go. It feels amazing.”

It was redemption for the junior Liu, who fell in the No. 2 singles final to Demi Williamson of Citrus, 6-3, 6-2.

Mia Liu at the net during District Finals. Photo by Chris Bernhardt Jr.
Mia Liu of Hernando hits a return during a No. 1 doubles match in the District 2A-6 Tournament on Wednesday in Crystal River. Photo by Chris Bernhardt Jr.

“I feel like since last year was our first time being doubles partners, this year, the connections have definitely gotten better,” Liu said. “It means a lot. It’s an accomplishment.”

The senior Cuevas already stamped her ticket to states with a triumph over Weeki Wachee’s Atene Antanaviciute in the No. 1 singles championship match, 6-3, 6-2. Only the No. 1 singles and doubles winners earn automatic state berths.

“My singles match, it was probably one of my best matches that I’ve had,” Cuevas said. “Hard hitting on both sides. Props to her, she was good. Each set, it was tough. But I made it through.”

The most competitive finals match was at No. 5 singles. That’s where sophomore Tina Vega-Diaz defeated Hughes in three sets, 3-6, 6-3, 10-4.

“It was a little bit nerve-wracking. I thought I was going to lose. But I ended up pulling through,” Vega-Diaz said. “I think I just got more confident. I was a little bit nervous at first and then I just realized you’ve got shake it off and play through.

“This is what we’ve been working for all season. It’s nice to be able say that we’re district champs.”

Next up for the Leopards will be a regional quarterfinal they’ll host on Tuesday against Mount Dora.

“They can play the best they can,” Brown said. “They encourage each other all the time. They stay positive and that’s it. As long as they play well, as long as they play together, if they win, they win.

“Of course, I want them all to go (to states). I want them all to go.”

Chris Bernhardt
Chris Bernhardt
A resident of Spring Hill since 1986, Chris graduated from Springstead High in 1999 before moving on to earn a bachelor’s degree in journalism at the University of Central Florida. In summer of 2003 he joined the staff at Hernando Today, working at the paper for 11 years as a sports reporter, the last three as sports coordinator in charge of the paper’s sports coverage. After an initial 3-year stint with Hernando Sun, he spent four years as a staff sports reporter at the Citrus County Chronicle. Follow on X @cpbernhardtjr.
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