Usually when a person says they have been there for someone since the beginning — unless the two are related — it’s probably a bit of an exaggeration.
But if Fort Lauderdale Pine Crest girls’ tennis coach Brett Kurtz were to describe his relationship with his No. 1 singles player, Stephanie Taylor, in such a way, then it actually would be quite accurate.
Kurtz began coaching Taylor when she was 2 years old.
“It’s pretty funny. We’ve got pictures of her in diapers holding a tennis racket,” he said.
Taylor was in diapers at the same time Kurtz was giving her older sister tennis lessons. One day he pulled Taylor’s mother aside and asked whether she was interested in allowing him to start from scratch with Taylor.
Still coached by Kurtz 12 years later, Taylor — now 14 and an eighth-grader with an aggressive style of play that can cover the whole court — holds the alpha position on the first Pine Crest girls’ tennis team to advance to state finals in 31 years.
Pine Crest — which had its boys’ team win it all in Class 2A last season — doesn’t have the pedigree as the other Broward County schools that will join it at the state tournament.
The Weston Cypress Bay boys’ team is defending Class 4A champion and is in its fourth consecutive state tournament, and the Lightning girls’ team returns for its second year in a row. The Weston Sagemont boys — state victors in 2011 in Class 1A — are looking to bring back a state title after a one-year hiatus from the tournament. Plantation American Heritage, whose boys’ team will be in the Class 2A tournament, is no stranger to state play either.
To get to this point and snap the school’s longtime skid of being left out of states, the Panthers’ girls won a 4-0 dual match in the regional finals over American Heritage, a team that has recently been a thorn in their side by preventing them from advancing. The Patriot girls finished third in the Class 2A state finals last season.
“We’ve beaten American Heritage during the season, but never in the districts and never in the regionals, at least since I’ve been there,” said Kurtz, now in his sixth year with the team. “I think the depth of our team [was the difference], and the matchups were good.
“It was just us working together as a team and having a goal from the start of the season to give ourselves the best chance to do it. Get this worked out.”
The Panthers are a youthful bunch. Three of their top six singles players are in middle school, including two that play at the five singles position — Taylor already holds the No.1 spot as an eighth grader and at No. 5 Dax Seidlin is only in sixth grade. The other three — Kaely Malik (No. 2), Ines de Bracamonte (No. 3) and Katarina Stevanovich (No. 4) — still have two years of eligibility remaining as they complete their sophomore years.
Exuberance abounds for the young Panthers.
“They’re happy as heck,” Kurtz said. “They couldn’t be more excited. They all play the USTA tournaments [individually], but the team concept is something that I’ve instilled on them from the start because, obviously, it’s an individual sport, but it’s great to play for more than just yourself.”
Jacksonville Bolles and Miami Gulliver figure to be the Panthers’ toughest competition in states, but those schools better beat them while they still can. With a young core that will remain together for at least two more seasons, it doesn’t figure to be another 31 years before the next Pine Crest trip to states.