Prep tennis | Saint Stephen's girls, boys earn trip to state

jdill@bradenton.comApril 11, 2014 

BRADENTON -- For the second year in a row, the Saint Stephen's boys tennis team is heading to the state tournament.

This year's Falcons are getting some company.

The Saint Stephen's girls are joining their male counterparts after each team earned Class 1A-Region 5 titles Thursday.

The boys defeated St. Petersburg Shorecrest Prep 4-1. It was the third consecutive region final between the two programs, with the Falcons prevailing the past two seasons.

The Saint Stephen's girls edged rival Out-of-Door Academy 4-3 to book their spot into next week's state tournament, which starts Wednesday at Red Bug Lake Park in Casselberry.

"It's great for the school," Saint Stephen's girls coach Lesley Eckert said. "It's great for the program. And ending up with the same teams over and over again, it shows just how strong the rivalry."

The boys -- consisting of Zach Bessette (No. 1), Brian Berdusco (No. 2), Russell Berdusco (No. 3) and Graham Conron (No. 4) -- ran off victories in straight sets in singles competition to clinch the state tourney berth.

"We've built a healthy rivalry with them (Shorecrest), and I think that these guys are always dialed in

when they play them," Falcons boys coach James Flanigan said. "And I love that they bring out the best out of us. It's been a ton of fun over the past three years just what we've had with meeting them in the same match. And we're lucky to come out on top."

Meanwhile, the girls needed to secure one win out of the two doubles matches to get past the Thunder, who were the defending region champs.

Saint Stephen's lost to ODA in the region final last spring, and was without No. 1 singles player Nicole Johnston, who was out of town.

Johnston, though, is expected back for the state tourney.

Maria Ross and Mary Ann Rompf earned singles victories for ODA, while Liyin Xu, Claudia Usubillaga and Pho Cho notched wins for Saint Stephen's.

Xu teamed with Danning Feng to earn the state tourney berth with a 6-1, 6-2 victory in No. 2 doubles over Savannah Jones and Morgan Woods.

"Saint Stephen's was more match experienced and deep in the bottom of their lineup, which was the difference (Thursday)," ODA girls coach Noel Dougherty said. "And that, you give full credit for."

Despite the setback, Ross and Rompf are still heading to the state tournament to play in the individual competition. They qualified by winning the No. 1 doubles title in the district meet, and Ross will also compete in singles as the No. 1 singles district champion.

The individual competition is held at Sylvan Lake Park in Sanford next Wednesday and Thursday -- the same days as the team competition.

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