The Pine Crest girls’ tennis team, fresh off its first trip to state in 31 years, returns all of its top players from last season and adds three stellar newcomers from its Boca Raton campus.
But despite all that talent, Pine Crest might not be able to survive regional play this season.
That’s because Miami’s Gulliver Prep — the defending state champion in Class 2A — has moved into Pine Crest’s region.
“We’re probably one of the top two or three teams in the state in [Class 2A],” Pine Crest coach Brett Kurtz said. “If we get to regionals and face Gulliver, whoever wins that might win state.”
Pine Crest is led by freshman Stephanie Taylor, who is ranked No. 33 in the state in the girls’ 16s. She reached the state semifinals last season at No. 1 singles and did the same thing at No. 1 doubles with Kaely Malik, a junior.
“Me and [Malik] have a really long history — we’ve been been playing together for seven years,” Taylor said.
Malik, whose father, Farhan, is the Pine Crest boys’ coach, has become more attack-minded.
“She used to … I don’t want to say lob the ball, but she gets it back a lot,” Taylor said. “She’s very fast and can play four hours, and she will never quit. But now she is more aggressive.”
Pine Crest also has junior Ines de Bracamonte, who went 17-0 last season and won a state title at No. 3 singles.
“Ines always has great communication with our coach,” Malik said. “She will keep fighting.”
After the top three, things get really competitive to be in the five-deep starting lineup at Pine Crest. Junior Katarina Stevanovich was a state finalist last season at No. 4 singles, and Pine Crest has added freshmen Carly Feldman and Amanda Rubin and seventh-grader Demi Snyder, who is ranked 13th in the state in her age group.
It’s no surprise that this deep Pine Crest team has been invited to the Deco Turf National High School Championships. The 14-team tournament, set for March 21-22 in Louisville, Ky., has an elite field that includes schools from eight states.
Pine Crest and Miami’s Ransom Everglades will represent South Florida.
“I’m excited to go to that tournament,” Malik said. “We get to travel as a team, and that will bring us closer together.”
Soon after the team returns from Kentucky, Pine Crest will start what it hopes will be a long postseason run.
District playoffs begin March 31, and the regionals are April 8-10. The state tournament, which Pine Crest has never won outright, tying for the title in 1981, is set for April 14-18.
“I just hope we can win the whole thing this year,” said Taylor, 14. “But even if we don’t, we just want to try our hardest.”