Prep tennis | Saint Stephen's girls down ODA in marathon, head to state

jdill@bradenton.comApril 13, 2012 

LAKEWOOD RANCH -- The change in scenery didn't bother them.

Nor did the switch from playing in daylight to under the lights.

Both were made possible by just how close both girls tennis teams are in talent level.

In the end, Saint Stephen's used momentum gained from two three-set singles victories to wrap up both doubles matches at a different location against host Out-of-Door Academy on Thursday.

The Falcons' 5-2 victory in the Class 1A-Region 5 final earned them a trip to next week's state tournament.

"It's one of the most bizarre," said Saint Stephen's head coach Rich Schutzman about the 5-hour, 15-minute marathon that started at ODA and finished Lakewood Ranch Country Club.

The Thunder won the No. 1 (Maria Ross) and No. 3 (Morgan Woods) singles matches in straight sets.

Falcons' junior Hailey Nicklin did the same for Saint Stephen's in the No. 3 singles portion.

The turning point came as Nicole Johnston outlasted M'balia Bangoura 6-2, 3-6, 6-4 in the No. 2 singles match.

Bangoura arrived back in Sarasota on Thursday after missing Tuesday's first-round region match while competing in the prestigious Easter Bowl tournament in Rancho Mirage, Calif.

Saint Stephen's eighth-grader Annie Brey also claimed a three-set victory when she knocked off Savannah Sleight in the No. 4 singles match.

"I think psychologically, there's a chance we could have ended it there," Thunder head coach Noel Dougherty said.

With sunlight fading at ODA, the match shifted to Lakewood Ranch Country Club for the doubles matches. Ross also competes in track and field and couldn't return to tennis today because of track districts.

Saint Stephen's held a 3-2 advantage and was ahead a set in both doubles matches, meaning the Falcons needed to win just one of the two matches.

They captured both for the final margin.

"We have been playing really well on the hard courts, so we just tried keeping up the same strategy and playing aggressive at the net," said Saint Stephen's Jennifer Sundstrom, who won at No. 1 doubles with Nicole Johnston to clinch the match, about moving from ODA's hard surface to Lakewood Ranch Country Club's clay courts.

Ross and Bangoura's season isn't over quite yet. The duo claimed the No. 1 doubles title at the district tournament, and the seventh-grader Ross won the No. 1 singles crown.

Both titles earned their holders automatic state tourney berths.

The team competition, where Saint Stephen's heads, for 1A is at Red Bug Lake Park in Casselberry.

The individual portion is held at Sylvan Lake Park in Sanford. Both run from April 17-20.

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