LAKEWOOD RANCH -- Entering Tuesday's conclusion of the Class 1A-District 9 tennis tournament, the Saint Stephen's Falcons were primed to walk away from Out-of-Door Academy with district championship hardware in both the boys and girls divisions.
That's precisely what happened.
The boys team, which captured three singles titles and both doubles titles, earned 17 points to advance to next week's region tournament.
St. Petersburg Shorecrest tallied 12 points to take the runner-up spot. The top two teams advanced.
On the girls side, the Falcons earned 18 points to edge host ODA (15 points) for the district crown. Cardinal Mooney finished in third place with nine points in the girls division.
Between the girls and boys programs at Saint Stephen's, there is one player who trains at IMG Academy and some who train at Inspiration Academy, located at the former Bradenton Prep Academy.
But the players came together on both the boys and girls side to deliver two district titles.
"These kids don't have to play for their high school team," Saint Stephen's boys head coach James Flanigan said. "It's always awesome when we can get people, who are interested in supporting the school, wanting to win for the school and all that. Because it's tough to manage this when you hear about their schedules. It's tough to manage high school tennis and their training and their coaches and their tournaments."
For the boys, the secret was having two returning players in junior Zach Bessette and freshman Brian Berdusco who were part of the Falcons' state tournament team last spring.
The young team, though, features just one other junior in No. 5 singles player Jean-Pierre Descheneaux. The other two starters are seventh-grader Russell Berdusco and eighth-grader Graham Comron.
The Berdusco brothers claimed titles at the No. 2 and No. 3 singles positions, while Comron breezed to victory in the No. 4 singles final.
Bessette teamed with Berdusco to guarantee themselves a state tournament appearance as the winners of the No. 1 doubles final.
St. Petersburg Canterbury's Evan Holvoet defeated Shorecrest's Peter Lisky 6-3, 6-3 to win the No. 1 singles final and book a state tournament berth.
"It was good seeing young players meet that moment and meet that point of adversity and move past it," Flanigan said. "Tennis is an extremely cerebral game, and if your head is not right, then all that training can break down. So it's good to see guys persevere and rise to the occasion."
On the girls side, the margin between the Falcons and Thunder was close. Maria Ross won the No. 1 singles final in three sets over Saint Stephen's Nicole Johnston.
Mary Ann Rompf captured the No. 2 singles title in three sets over Saint Stephen's Elena Sava.
But Danning Feng, Liyin Xu and Claudia Usubillaga earned singles titles in the other three brackets for the Falcons, while Feng and Xu won at No. 2 doubles to offset Ross and Rompf's triumph in No. 1 doubles over Johnston and Sava.
That match went three sets, too.
"We were in the finals in all singles and doubles, while Cardinal Mooney actually defeated (ODA) in some earlier rounds, so that's where the point differences really came," Falcons girls coach Lesley Eckert said. "Head-to-head, two singles went to ODA and two went to Saint Stephen's. And the one doubles went to ODA. .. If we end up meeting in the regional finals, it'll be a very good match."
The Falcons will host region semifinal matches against the District 10 runner-up on April 8. ODA's girls hit the road for an away match at the District 10 champions.
The two girls programs could meet again at Saint Stephen's, if both schools win Tuesday's region semifinal. The region final is scheduled for April 10.