LAKEWOOD RANCH — Morgan Woods’ approach is unlike any other.
From the moment The Out-of-Door Academy sophomore steps onto the court, her thoughts drift to her teammates.
Whether it’s rising to the occasion and taking on a more challenging opponent or stepping back and letting her doubles partner, perhaps a teammate with whom she rarely has the opportunity to play, control the net, Woods’s focus never waivers.
“I always ask, ‘How is the team doing as a whole?’” Woods says. “That’s how I approach the court.”
In a sport that embodies individual accolades, Woods’s willingness to let the team’s success dictate her own success is truly unique.
And, her teammates have bought into the idea, as well.
ODA’s unique approach to the court paid off this season, as the Lady Thunder finished the regular season undefeated for the first time in school history.
“This is hands-down the strongest team I’ve ever coached,” coach Noel Dougherty says. “They also are the most unified one. It’s rare that those two things go hand-in-hand. It’s abnormal that with their (talent level), they are able to function so well together.”
The Lady Thunder (10-0) began their season Feb. 5 and, since then, the team has refused to lose sight of what lies ahead.
With the return of three-time Class 1A state champion and University of South Carolina commit Caroline Dailey, who took last season off to focus on junior tennis, and individual district champions Maria Ross and M’Balia Bangoura, the Lady Thunder were poised to have another successful season.
But, the reality that this season would be like none other came as the wins began to pile up midseason.
The girls pushed away thoughts of defending their Class 1A-District 9 championship or competing for a state title and focused on treating each individual match as if it were their last.
“We just have to make sure to keep our eye on what’s important,” Cheyenne Kerekes says.
Teammate Megan Jones agrees.
“We want the big title, but I think we’re too shy to admit it, because we don’t want to jinx it,” Jones says. “We want to be the first team to get it at the school.”
With 12 players on the roster — eight of whom play junior tennis — Dougherty was able to shuffle her players in and out of matches when necessary.
At any given time, a player could find herself playing No. 4 singles one day and No. 1 singles or doubles the next. Then, she might take the next match off to let others compete.
“You have the best of the best players all coming together into a collage of one team,” Jones says.
“We’re so strong, I don’t think anyone would be incredibly nervous or anxious if they were a No. 3 or
No. 4 player, and they play No. 1 or No. 2,” Woods says. “A lot of times those players are just as strong.”
With eight players routinely competing in junior-tennis tournaments nationwide the players didn’t always have the chance to practice together. Instead, the girls relied on their individual talents and faith in each other to propel them through the season.
But, although ODA has become one of the most dominate teams in the area, the Lady Thunder remain quietly confident — recognizing that something greater lies ahead.
On April 1 through April 3, the Lady Thunder returned to the court ready to defend their district title.
As of press time Tuesday, the Lady Thunder had placed all five singles players — Dailey, Ross, Bangoura, Alana Sherman and Savannah Sleight — in the finals and led the tournament with 17 points.
“We’re fairly humble,” Woods says. “I think it’s better to go in quietly and do what you can than to come out disappointed. This is an individual sport, but we have to remember we are a team. One of the beautiful things about this team is that we have so much potential. We haven’t reached the pinnacle yet.”
Check out www.YourObserver.com to see how the Lady Thunder faired. The district champion and district runner-up will both advance to the regional tournament April 9 and April 11.
Contact Jen Blanco at [email protected].
2012-13 ODA Girls Tennis Roster