Here’s a fact.
The Cypress Lake boys tennis team is markedly different from the squad that took the court a year ago.
And that’s a problem for anyone toting a racket against the Panthers.
Because this Cypress Lake team, which defeated District 11 runner-up Lemon Bay 5-0 in straight sets in the Region 2A-6 semifinals at Rutenberg Community Park on Tuesday, truly believes it has something special on its hands moving forward.
“I think we have good potential for states this year,” said Cypress Lake senior Zachary Blythe, the team’s No. 1 who was a 6-0, 6-0 winner over David Kappelmann on Tuesday.
The first step was winning a District 12 title, which the Panthers accomplished at Three Oaks Club on March 22. Next, Blythe says, is winning a region title.
To do that, they’ll need to beat Bradenton Southeast, 4-3 winners over Cape Coral in the other semifinal, on Thursday at Rutenberg Park in the Region 2A-6 finals.
“I don’t want to say we can guarantee it, because I don’t want to jinx it,” said Cypress Lake senior Cason Hiers, the team’s No. 2 who defeated Lemon Bay’s Liam Ryan 6-0, 6-0. “But we like our chances.”
It presents a major change from a season ago, when four of out the team’s five starters in 2016 weren’t even on the team.
Blythe, Hiers, Logan Glock and Nolan Nowak all were absent from the squad in 2015. The only player that remains is sophomore Jose Camacho, who was the Panthers’ No. 1. He calmly stepped down in ranking to give way to Blythe and Hiers, two players who have signed to play college tennis next season.
“It’s like really competitive to play No. 1,” said Camacho, who won 6-0, 6-0 over Matt Josephson, “but when we have the whole team together, we can win together and go farther.”
Their reasons for returning all vary. An injury kept Hiers away in 2015, while scheduling conflicts with work prevented Blythe from blocking out time to play. Ultimately, all four upperclassmen promised to make one big run at a state title this season.
“There was a lack of commitment from a lot of the guys,” Blythe said. “But we kind of brought it all together this year. We’re doing all right I think.”
Much of that has to do with the leadership of Blythe, a Belmont Abbey signee, and Hiers, a Catawba signee. The duo argued for accountability every day throughout the season.
“Being on time. Being prepared and having the right equipment,” Blythe said. “That’s the biggest thing for us. Be here and be on time. Show up for practice. Have rackets in your bag. That’s important.”
The Panthers has lost just one team match in 2016. Blythe’s only individual loss came against Fort Myers’ John Carlin, a returning state champion in Class 3A. Hiers has gone undefeated. Camacho is one of the strongest No. 3 players in the area.
It’s made for one of the Panthers’ strongest teams in some time, Blythe said.
“Really with the addition of Jose this year, pushing a few of our guys to the back of the lineup, he really helped us,” Blythe said.