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Tennis notebook: Three 'phenoms' helped Flagler Palm Coast boys become contenders

ORMOND BEACH — It’s the opposite, Andrew Shkotkin said.

No, there is not any pressure in being Flagler Palm Coast’s No. 1 singles player as a freshman. Why would there be? He has been playing tennis since he was 5 and has already compiled a 10-2 record this season.

Rather, “it's exciting,” he said.

Shkotkin fronts the group, but he is just one of the three newcomers coach Javier Bevacqua dubbed, "phenoms". Sophomore Adam Stochel-Polubiec (10-2 at No. 2) and freshman Alex Berenblit (12-0 at three) are the others.

They flipped the Bulldogs’ competitive level upside down.

Flagler Palm Coast's Andrew Shkotkin returns a shot at the net during doubles action with Adam Stochel-Polubiec against Seabreeze's JJ Martin and Hunter Shuler, Wednesday, April 10, 2024, at the Nova Community Park in Ormond Beach.
Flagler Palm Coast's Andrew Shkotkin returns a shot at the net during doubles action with Adam Stochel-Polubiec against Seabreeze's JJ Martin and Hunter Shuler, Wednesday, April 10, 2024, at the Nova Community Park in Ormond Beach.

Last season, they went 3-7 and finished fourth at the Five Star Conference Tournament without the young trio. This year, after a victory over Seabreeze Wednesday, they are 11-1. They captured first in the Five Star in March.

“The freshmen we had come in have a high (Universal Tennis Rating), and automatically, that makes it different right there,” Bevacqua said. “It's more competitive.”

With opponents and with each other.

“They all feed off each other,” Bevacqua said, after Shkotkin mentioned the ribbing (jokes, comparisons of scores, etc.) between the three.

And their development stands out.

In their first match of the season, the Bulldogs fell to 2023 state semifinalist Spruce Creek 5-2. They haven’t lost since. A month later, they eclipsed the second-place Hawks to snatch the Five Star Conference trophy.

“I thought it took maybe three or four matches until they figured it out,” Bevacqua said. “It's individual. You have to win your match. But it's about winning as a team. All these kids grow up, and it's about them on the court. They have to understand they're part of the team, and if you win, it helps the team.”

Flagler Palm Coast's Joshua Thorpe reaches to return a shot during doubles action with partner Jack Mikutel against Seabreeze, Wednesday, April 10, 2024, at the Nova Community Park in Ormond Beach.
Flagler Palm Coast's Joshua Thorpe reaches to return a shot during doubles action with partner Jack Mikutel against Seabreeze, Wednesday, April 10, 2024, at the Nova Community Park in Ormond Beach.

Junior Joshua Thorpe held the No. 1 singles spot last spring. Now, he's the No. 4 and has dominated en route to an 11-0 record. Sophomore Aaron Lieberman rounds out the top five with an 11-2 ledger.

Flagler Palm Coast’s girls team also improved its record. It enjoyed a winning season in 2023 — 6-4 with a second-place finish at the Five Star. But in 2024, it is 9-1. Its lone loss also came against eventual Five Star champion Spruce Creek in the first week of the season.

Sophomore Marina Carlisi transitioned from the third singles position last year (5-6) to No. 1 this spring.

“The different levels from the three to the one is crazy,” she said. “But I think I'm holding my ground.”

She is.

In singles, Carlisi’s record stands at 7-5. In No. 1 doubles with fellow sophomore Tatiana Leontyeva, she is 10-3.

Flagler Palm Coast's Marina Carlisi returns a shot against Seabreeze, Wednesday, April 10, 2024, at the Nova Community Park in Ormond Beach.
Flagler Palm Coast's Marina Carlisi returns a shot against Seabreeze, Wednesday, April 10, 2024, at the Nova Community Park in Ormond Beach.

Leontyeva, who has competed mostly at line three, is 12-2 in singles matches.

“The girls have a great sisterhood,” Bevacqua said. “They all get along with one another. The boys, too. You see us joking around. We have a great time. But the girls all get along with one another and just have a great time.”

The real test for each squad arrives next week. Monday and Tuesday, they will enter the District 2-4A bracket at the Palm Coast Tennis Center.

On the boys side, expect a three-way battle between the Bulldogs, Buchholz and Spruce Creek. Spruce Creek persists as the presumptive girls favorite after bringing its entire starting lineup back from a state semifinals appearance last year.

Pressure?

Well, probably not if you ask Shkotkin.

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Seabreeze recognizes its district standard

Seabreeze's JJ Martin returns a shot during doubles action with Hunter Shuler against Flagler Palm Coast, Wednesday, April 10, 2024, at the Nova Community Park in Ormond Beach.
Seabreeze's JJ Martin returns a shot during doubles action with Hunter Shuler against Flagler Palm Coast, Wednesday, April 10, 2024, at the Nova Community Park in Ormond Beach.

The Sandcrabs are the team to beat at the District 5-3A Tournament.

And they know that.

After clinching the boys and girls titles last year, both squads have backed them up this spring. Each carry 6-0 records against league foes (8-2 overall, with their only losses to Spruce Creek and Flagler Palm Coast).

“A lot of the things we've been talking about is, let's not talk about the big moment or think about defending a title,” coach Trishna Patel said. “You have to go and perform to the best of your ability. We're kind of taking it like business as usual.”

Last season, Seabreeze’s boys made their first state quarterfinals since 2016.

Three of their five singles spots changed this year, including the top position. Freshman JJ Martin filled the vacancy left by Leo Kwetkus, who graduated. Martin maintains the Sandcrabs’ highest UTR and a 8-4 record.

“He actually brings a lot of that emphatic, higher-level power, more aggressive play to our team,” Patel said. “He's big. He has a big serve, a big forehand. I think that's been really great having the rest of the team see his level. That kind of motivates the rest of the guys.”

Sophomore Hunter Shuler stayed in the No. 2 position he earned as a freshman in 2023. Patel called him Seabreeze’s “singles specialist.” Junior William Reece elevated himself to the No. 4 line.

Seabreeze's Ewan Noval hits a shot against Flagler Palm Coast, Wednesday, April 10, 2024, at the Nova Community Park in Ormond Beach.
Seabreeze's Ewan Noval hits a shot against Flagler Palm Coast, Wednesday, April 10, 2024, at the Nova Community Park in Ormond Beach.

Liam Rasmussen and Ewan Noval returned for their second year as a doubles pairing. Patel considered splitting them but ultimately decided to value their chemistry and big-match experience together. It has paid off with a 9-3 record.

They also play singles — Rasmussen at three and Noval at five.

“They're both seniors,” Patel said. “They practice together. They have a really good season under their belt. So as seniors, to afford them that opportunity to finish out their high school career in that partnership, I think, is something special.”

The girls are looking to join the boys as state qualifiers.

Junior Riya Arab is in her third year as the Sandcrabs’ top player. That has led to increased maturity and leadership, along with consistency on the court.

Arab carries a 6-4 record in No. 1 singles.

“Within our district, I still think she is the player to beat,” Patel said. “She kind of remains at that level, and some of the things that were her goals last summer were to improve her serve and really to make her forehand more steady.”

Seabreeze's Riya Arab lifts a shot against Flagler Palm Coast, Wednesday, April 10, 2024, at the Nova Community Park in Ormond Beach.
Seabreeze's Riya Arab lifts a shot against Flagler Palm Coast, Wednesday, April 10, 2024, at the Nova Community Park in Ormond Beach.

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Sophomore Gigi Henderson jumped from outside the starting lineup to the No. 2 singles spot, bolstering the top three along with Arab and senior Haylee Ochipa (13-4 at two in 2023). Henderson is 7-3.

“Still a little inexperienced, but she really worked on her game over the summer,” Patel said. “She put in a lot of the effort, and that actually showed during our challenge match period ... There are others down the line that have more experience when it comes to match play, but she really earned her spot.”

The district tournament is scheduled for Thursday and Friday at Sanlando Park in Altamonte Springs. Last year’s boys runner-up, Lyman, will host.

This article originally appeared on The Daytona Beach News-Journal: High school tennis: FPC, Seabreeze among Volusia-Flagler area's best