The Blue Wave is ready to roar across the Arizona desert.
The FSCJ tennis squad tied for second at the Florida College System Activities Association championships April 10-12 in Altamonte Springs, earning one of the state’s three automatic bids to the National Junior College Athletic Association tournament in Tucson, Ariz.
Nationally-ranked FCSAA champion State College of Florida, Manatee-Sarasota and Broward College claimed the other two positions in the tournament. Now, the Blue Wave team is preparing to storm the national competition, which will take place from May 2-8 at Tucson’s Reffkin Tennis Center.
“As a unit, we pull together so well that we can make anything happen,” said Blue Wave number-one singles player Olivia Rolle. The decisive points came in number-three doubles Saturday, when the team of Krista Tyson and Thais Castiglioni won a winner-take-all contest with St. Petersburg College for the last qualifying spot.
It was another milestone in an exhausting week for Castiglioni, who earlier fought back from a first-set deficit in a number-four singles match that won the admiration of the crowd.
“The girl who won the entire tournament walked onto the court, came all the way to her to shake her hand and say, ‘Phenomenal match,'” Blue Wave coach Sabaea Carrington said.
Castiglioni, the NJCAA champion last year at number-six singles, credited her freshman teammate Tyson with helping her fight through fatigue in the doubles match. “Without her, I couldn’t have done that,” Castiglioni said.
Only later did they learn the significance of their doubles victory–if they had lost, St. Petersburg would have snatched the last qualifying spot in place of FSCJ. “If I had known that in the match, I would have been even more nervous,” Tyson said.
Success at the nationals is nothing new for the Blue Wave, which finished fourth overall at both the 2013 and 2014 tournaments. Three of FSCJ’s seven players already have NJCAA tournament experience, a relative rarity.
“That experience helped me in improving my game and being mentally more ready for this season,” Castiglioni said. “Right now, I’m stronger mentally, physically and I know what I need to do.”
FSCJ is ranked sixth in the March Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA) junior/community college rankings, one of four Florida schools in the top nine. The ITA is scheduled to release updated rankings Thursday.
With Arizona looming at the start of May, the Blue Wave is using its remaining practice time to hone skills in preparation for meetings with some of the country’s best. “We’re more focused on the smaller, delicate, strategic strokes rather than full-blown sprints and weights, just making sure that I tap into the mental aspect of the game,” Carrington said.
Now, they’re planning to keep Jacksonville on the national tennis map.
“The last two years we’ve had a really good run,” team captain Kami Thomas said. “Hopefully this year we can keep that up and place top-five at nationals.”