MANATEE -- Maria Ross might only be a rising sophomore, but her tennis game is light years ahead of the competition.
That's why she didn't lose a singles match this past high school season, and it's why the Out-of-Door Academy player was an easy choice for Herald All-Area Girls Tennis Player of the Year.
"I'm honored," Ross said. "It's so special to be athlete of the year for tennis. It's really nice."
But the work that Ross put in on the singles side, winning the individual and overall Class 1A state titles, isn't what she said is her favorite tennis moment this past season.
That top memory belongs to the finish she had with teammate Mary Ann Rompf in doubles.
The duo captured the individual doubles title, before winning a wild three-setter for the overall doubles title.
"Being able to share it with my partner was really nice," said Ross, who won the title with Rompf by a 6-3, 3-6, 10-8 score. "It was the last match of our entire season, and I had already won the singles. And just being able to win it with Mary Ann was really nice to be able to share it with someone."
It wasn't always smooth sailing for Ross.
She had difficult matches at the district and regional levels, but she persevered each time.
Those close calls concentrated her focus.
"Just take each match one at a time," Ross said.
Last year, Ross was the Thunder's No. 2 player behind Caroline Dailey. They also played together in doubles.
Ross said she always wanted to win states like Dailey, who won three consecutive individual crowns and a doubles championship before taking a year off as a junior and suffering an injury at the state tournament as a senior.
This season, Ross earned her promotion to the No. 1 spot and accomplished her goal of joining Dailey in the record books.
"I think everyone in the back of their mind wanted to win states, but I tried to block that out," Ross said. "It takes each regional and district one at a time. You have to win one to get to another. ... I think that I put the most pressure on myself, but I overcome that really well."
Now Ross turns her attention to a summer slate of tournaments that includes the USTA Nationals in an effort to keep improving.
"I've been really working hard, in general, on everything," Ross said.
One area Ross mentioned was getting her serve to be more consistent. Without losing a match this season, a more consistent serve only spells trouble for opposing players next year.
For now, Ross is relishing in the state titles she earned.