With two huge holes at the top of the Fort Myers girls tennis team’s lineup left by graduated standouts Thandiwe Kangwa and Stephanie Chavez, questions as to whether the powerhouse could win a sixth straight district title were prevalent.
All of those questions were put to rest Thursday when the Green Wave edged Venice by a point at the District 3A-11 tournament at Charlotte High.
However, Fort Myers coach Ron Riis said the lead-up to districts was way more important to the Green Wave’s success than their play over the previous two days. And that is with taking into consideration with the clutch play of the No. 1 doubles squad that clinched the team victory late.
“Our seniors had to make some decisions,” Riis said.
Seniors Danielle Andrade and Mary Beth Briers were thought to be the replacements at first and second singles at the beginning of the season, but there was no denying the rise of freshmen Shani Idlette and Marina Lombardo.
“The seniors had to decide if they wanted to be a team or wanted to be individuals,” Riis said. “They took it in stride, they played their positions and that’s what it took.”
The decision was easy.
“Two new freshmen come right in and showed everybody in this district and basically all over, they’re a force to be reckoned with,” Riis said.
Idlette knocked off Venice’s Jacqulyn Dixon 6-3, 6-2 at No. 1 singles to earn a spot in the 3A state championship bracket April 13 in Altamonte Springs.
Meanwhile, Lombardo made quick work of Riverdale’s Meghan Newton 6-0, 6-1 at No. 2 singles.
Venice players won at No. 3, No. 4 and No. 5 singles, forcing Fort Myers to split the doubles matchups to earn the sixth consecutive district championship. Idlette and Lombardo left little question with a dominant 6-0, 6-1 win at first doubles.
The Green Wave will host a regional semifinal April 5.
On the boys side, Fort Myers’ John Carlin earned his third straight trip to state and the Green Wave scored 18 points to complete the sweep of district titles.
Carlin, a junior who is 15-0 on the season, has been on a mission to get back to his state championship form of 2014 after falling in the state finals last season when he suffered from cramping due to dehydration.
“I was pretty disappointed because I thought I was in pretty good shape,” Carlin said.
In the finals Thursday, he fell behind Venice’s Carter Sebo 4-1 in the first set before storming back to earn a 6-4 win and polishing off his third district title with a 6-2 set victory.
“I wasn’t really playing my game, but then I started focusing more, hitting my shots,” Carlin said. “I started taking more opportunities and chances. At the beginning of the match, I was playing a little too tentative and tight. Then I started playing more aggressive and looking for my shots.”
Carlin then teamed up with Luka Illic at No. 1 doubles to book another trip to states with a 6-2, 6-3 win over Venice’s Sebo and Nicholas Radzanowski.
Illic cruised to a 6-1, 6-1 win over Venice’s Daniel Manieri at No. 2 singles.
“I was just kind of waiting for him to make a mistake,” Illic said. “I was kind of nervous because I didn’t know how it was going with everyone else’s matches. I just waited him out.”
Also earning district championships were Fort Myers’ Vincent Tovar Diaz at No. 3 singles and the No. 2 doubles team of Vikram Raju and Christopher Crouch.
The Ida Baker No. 2 doubles team of Drayton Diggs and George Diggs was runner-up.