FPC boys: 'One of our best seasons ever'
Coming into the 2019 season, Flagler Palm Coast boys tennis Coach Per Berg knew his team was going to be strong. The team was senior-laden, and as a result, experienced — except at the No. 1 and No. 2 spot.
The Bulldogs’ best players were brothers Eric and Daniel Berenblit. Eric, a junior, was the team’s No. 1 player.
“It was one of our best seasons ever,” Berg said.
The Bulldogs won the Five Star Conference Championship on March 28 at the Florida Tennis Center, defeating a tough Spruce Creek team. The Bulldogs also finished second at districts behind Buchholz, but lost 4-3 at regionals.
One surprise this year was the addition of Matthew Pokorny.
Pokorny, who was a top 50 tennis player in the state in middle school, gave up tennis when he entered high school and became FPC’s top swimmer. After years without picking up a racket, he joined the tennis team this season and earned the No. 3 spot.
“He was a little rusty at first,” Berg said. “But he’s a great athlete.”
FPC girls: A tight bond
Javier Bevacqua, the head coach of FPC’s stout girls basketball team, has been around tennis his whole life. He grew up playing the game, and his son and daughter both currently play. So when the opportunity to become the head coach of the Bulldogs’ girls tennis team presented itself, he had to pounce.
The Bulldogs saw plenty of success in his first season with the team. They went 10-1 during the regular season — despite several matches being canceled due to weather. They came in third place in the conference championship after losing three tiebreakers, and they came in third at districts, losing on four tiebreakers.
“We had some games in the bag,” he said, “and we let them slip away.”
The Bulldogs’ top player was Tina Grundner, a junior exchange student from Austria. It was Grundner’s first and only season with the team. She’s returning to Austria at the conclusion of this school year.
“My tennis experience was really great because we had a really fun team,” she said. “We just had a good connection. We supported each other a lot.”
Matanzas boys: Korolev leads the way
Matanzas’ boys tennis team struggled last season.
Pirates No. 2 Josh Gaynor was just happy to see his team improve step-by-step in 2019 under first-year head coach Jeremy Pease. He said many of the players struggled to even hit a ball properly when the season started.
“Everyone improved throughout the year,” the junior said. “We did great as a team. We all played very well together. It’s mind blowing how far we’ve come in such a short amount of time.”
Despite the Pirates’ relative inexperience, they still had one player qualify individually for the FHSAA state tournament: their No. 1, sophomore Ilya Korolev, who was far and away the Pirates’ top player.
The tournament was held May 1-3 at Sanlando Park in Seminole County. Korolev got to bypass the opening round. In the second round, he faced one of the top players in the state in Naples High School’s Michael Moll.
Moll was the first set 6-2, but Korolev battled back to capture the second set 6-2, forcing a tiebreaker.
However, Moll won the tiebreaker 11-9.
“Ilya was amazing for us this year,” Gaynor said.
Matanzas girls: Showing improvement
In addition to Bevacqua and Pease, Brandie Alred also began her first season as head coach in 2019. Alred had played tennis throughout her 20s, and with a position opening up to coach the girls at Matanzas, she couldn’t say no.
“I thought it would be a lot of fun to take my knowledge and transfer it to these girls,” she said.
The Pirates, who had a losing season the year prior, finished the regular season 6-6. They also finished fifth in the conference, defeating the entire lower bracket in the tournament to earn their spot.
The Pirates were led by sophomore Natalie Valenteychik, who last season was the Pirates’ first freshman No. 1 since 2012.
She made it to the second round of districts before losing to Creekside’s Imani Graham, who won an individual state title this season.
Valenteychik was more of a “lone wolf” last season, choosing to practice alone. She was more involved with team practices this year.
“I actually talked to people this year,” she said. “It was more enjoyable.”