A Swing or a Miss: Are ODA Tennis Players Good Enough to Play in College?

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The ODA girl's varsity tennis team after their district runner-up victory.

Matt Jones, Staff Writer

It’s January now, and with a new semester comes with a new season for ODA sports teams. While lacrosse, track, and baseball get most of the recognition, there is one sport at ODA that falls short of the same respect as the three major spring sports, even though this said sport has had more success in recent years than all of the sports offered here.

That sport is tennis.

Even through the darkest of years, ODA’s varsity tennis teams seem to have pulled through till the end, with athletes such as alumna Caroline Daily, junior Maria Ross, who won in 2013, and as of last year, senior M’Balia Bangoura, who was the overall state champion in Florida.

“ODA now has five championships in the past eight years. Caroline Dailey won three straight individual titles in 2008, 2009 and 2010, and Ross, a freshman, won last year,” offers a Bradenton Herald article from last year’s season.

Last year's ODA girl's varsity tennis team.
Last year’s ODA girl’s varsity tennis team.

Are the male players possibly as good as the girls have been in the past five years? Have they ever had players who went on to Regionals or States like the girl’s team always has had?

The answer to that question seemed to have been summed up as of last year.

“ODA Boys Tennis Team Wins Regional Semifinal,” says one 2015 Bradenton Herald sports headline.

“Out-of-Door Academy’s No. 1 doubles team of Philip Chiritescu and Josh Samuel won their match to clinch a 5-2 victory over host Community School of Naples on Tuesday in the Class 1A-Region 5 boys tennis semifinal.”

The Boy’s Varsity tennis team made it to the regional finals, the final level before States. Even though the boys’ tennis team set a school record by being the first ever boys tennis squad at ODA to enter the regional finals, a more broad trend seems to pop up during the post-ODA regional finale match.

Last year's ODA boy's varsity tennis team.
Last year’s ODA boy’s varsity tennis team.

Why should a high-level tennis player care so much about playing high school tennis?

The problem with tennis in the US is that it is seldom enjoyed after the player graduates high school, because even if that player is good enough to play in college, there is no guarantee that a high school tennis player is going to play in college, especially if that player is American.

According to the Intercollegiate Tennis Association, coaches will often look for players in an international pool. In countries where football isn’t the dominant sport, tennis can draw more athletes than it might in the US.

So no matter how good a high school tennis player thinks he is, he ultimately has to face the reality: only 5.3% of high school tennis players that play in high school are going to go to the next level and play at the college of their choice.

But there is still a glimmer of hope for current high school players, especially those with national rankings.

M’Balia Bangoura, a senior and a state champion, as of last year, procured a scholarship to play division one tennis at the University of Nebraska.

“We are privileged to have such a gifted young lady so dedicated to the game entering our Husker family, said the coaches of the Nebraska Cornhuskers when Bangoura signed with the school.

Even as great of a player as M’Balia is, some of the tennis players at ODA will ultimately not be able to play at the college level, but senior Vaughn Garica still has hope for all current tennis players at ODA.

“I believe that some of current players this year are good enough to go to the next level and play collegiately. They got the skill, and all they need is the support and confidence right now,” says senior Vaughn Garcia.

Since some high school teams like ODA have enjoyed recent high level high school tennis wins, some players can now reflect on their previous wins and set goals on obtaining future victories in the sport before their senior year is over.

“I believe that with all of our squad’s skill, we can achieve something greater than all of what ODA’s tennis teams have done in all eighteen years combined,” says Garcia.

This is why so many sports celebrate senior athletes at least at one game out of each sport’s season. For most players, their last game or match in their favorite sport in their senior year might well be their last.

“All I have to do is hope that this year will be my best year for tennis so far,” says Garcia.

So will more high school tennis players take their game to the next level and play collegiately, or will they be shorthanded by some international players that dominant the college tennis stage?

Whatever happens to current players, it’s best for them to enjoy their high school games in this strong season this is sure to be.