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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
2012-13 ODA Girls Tennis Roster
Currently 2 Responses
- So sorry you are offended, Roberta. I assure you that Noel is not a careless or arrogant individual. She loves the students at ODA, past and present; there is no question in my mind. Thank you for taking the time to correct the record, but please don't take such offense. Instead, celebrate the victory of another batch of hard-working girls on the courts. Yeah, Thunder. We are so proud of you.
- I am very disappointed to see quotes from Noel Dougherty indicating that ODA tennis has never gone to the state tournament as a team. This is incorrect, as the TEAM made it to states in 2003. In fact, last I knew, there was even a banner in the gym to honor that accomplishment. It is sad to see the hard work of that group of students, now alumni, go forgotten and ignored. As the coach of that team, I am still very proud of their play and am embarrassed for these students that the current coach ignores their history. I have held on to that roster and would like to offer those students their due credit in ODA athletics history: Chloe Lipp, Amanda Petruzzi, Lyndsey Johansson, Vanessa Johansson, Erika Ramos. The 2003 team finished with an 11-0 undefeated season.
He's a swinging sensation
When Gus Andreone, 103, teed it up at the Lakes Course of Sarasota’s Palm-Aire Country Club, he expected to shoot under his age — he usually does.
'Excellent' mentors recognized
One East County teacher may officially be coined “excellent.”
Food and fun
The Lakewood Ranch Business Alliance and its Young Leaders Alliance have something to talk about: the organizations collected 764 pounds of nonperishable food and $1,295 cash to benefit The Food Bank of Manatee/Meals on Wheels PLUS.