MANATEE — There was a time not that long ago when freshman Cari Berry had no desire to play high school tennis.
Having played competitively since she was 9 years old, Berry became accustomed to viewing tennis as an individual sport. But after watching her sister, Elena, play tennis for the University of Delaware, Berry changed her mind. She wanted to see what it would be like to play for a team.
And she’s never looked back.
“I just like playing tennis and I love the team,” Berry said. “We’re like a family, and I love it. I just came to help out the team and be a part of the teamwork and everything.”
Growing up, Berry spent much of her time watching her two sisters play tennis. Berry picked up a racket for the first time when she was 7 years old and she has been playing ever since.
The home-school student joined the Lakewood Ranch High girls tennis team. Before long Berry became the Lady Mustangs’ No. 1 singles player. Berry dominated in her first season of team tennis, with her only loss coming against non-district opponent Riverview in the final match of the year.
“She’s definitely been an exciting addition to the team, and she has the game to back it up,” Lakewood Ranch coach Jason Golden said. “The other girls have really welcomed her with open arms.”
Berry finished the regular district season undefeated and earned the top seed in the Class 3A- District 11 tournament April 15-16.
She breezed through the tournament, capturing her first district title and receiving an automatic bid to the state tennis tournament, which begins April 27. But Berry’s championship run didn’t end there. Instead, she followed up her singles performance with another district title after teaming up with Katherine Pyne in No. 1 doubles.
With the wins, Berry also helped cement the Lady Mustangs’ third straight district title and a trip to the regional tournament.
“I just wanted to play really good,” Berry said. “I thought that if we all played really good, then we would all do fine. I’m just really proud and happy that we won.”
In addition to Berry, Pyne (No. 2), Alyssa Corcoran (No. 3), Jordan Yates (No. 4) and Victoria Gomez (No. 5) captured district singles titles.
“We knew coming in where we stood and the girls all looked really sharp,” Golden said. “They were really focused and they played even better than I thought they would, but that’s always a good thing.”
Reaching the state tournament is nothing new for Pyne, who advanced last year in No. 1 doubles before falling in the state semifinals. Last year’s finish was disappointing for the junior, and now Pyne is eager for another shot at redemption.
“It means a lot to be able to make it back to states,” Pyne said. “Last year when we lost in the semifinals, I felt like it was my fault. But now I feel like I’m helping Cari (enjoy) this experience.”
Contact Jen Blanco at [email protected].