High School Sports

Out-of-Door Academy Thunder breeze to region final

LAKEWOOD RANCH -- They were missing their No. 2 singles player.

That meant four Out-of-Door Academy Thunder girls tennis players had to shift up a slot for Tuesday's Class 1A-Region 5 semifinal.

But the host Thunder weren't fazed, winning all five singles matches against Fort Myers Canterbury for a 5-0 victory, pushing the girls program to the brink of earning its first trip to the state tournament as a team.

"They absolutely peaked," ODA coach Noel Dougherty said. "They played their best tennis."

Dougherty said Canterbury's top four players compete in USTA events as well as high school tournaments.

Yet ODA rolled past them without losing a set. Morgan Woods pulled out a come-from-behind victory in the No. 4 singles match. Woods (10-3) won four consecutive games after trailing 5-3 in the second set to complete the sweep.

No. 2 singles player Cheyenne Kerekes improved to 13-2 with her 6-3, 6-0 victory over Canterbury's Solange Ganthier.

But Kerekes isn't the regular No. 2 player for ODA. That spot belongs to M'balia Bangoura, who was missing due to the prestigious Easter Bowl tennis tournament being held in Rancho Mirage, Calif., this week.

"At first it was really nerve-wracking," Kerekes said. "But I have to get over it and just deal with it. Going into the match I was a little nervous. I think I got over the nerves in the first few games and found my shots."

The junior sealed the Thunder's victory as the fourth singles triumph in the best-of-seven format.

Earlier, ODA seventh-grader Maria Ross kept her undefeated high-school

mark intact in the No. 1 singles match.

Ross, just 12 years old and ranked No. 14 in the state in the girls 14-and-younger age division, didn't drop a game against Canterbury senior Courtney Bagans.

"She's completely naturally talented," Dougherty said. "And she's fast ... tremendous composure on court."

Ross' speed is enhanced by her participation in track and field, but Dougherty said track isn't a conflict.

Ross improved to 13-0 with Tuesday's win, adding to an already-impressive resume that includes victories over the No. 1 players at Riverview and Venice -- two traditional tennis powers.

"It has a little bit of pressure on you, but at the same time they have more pressure because they are playing someone younger," Ross said.

Savannah Sleight (11-2) dropped Isabella Ganthier 6-1, 6-0 for the Thunder in the No. 3 singles match.

And Charlotte Dixon earned her fourth victory with a triumph over Canterbury's Purya Nagarajan in the No. 5 singles contest.

The Thunder's next step is Thursday when they host Saint Stephen's with a state tournament berth on the line.