Varsity Report: Lake Nona girls sweep doubles but fall in FHSAA tennis state final

Lake Nona High School had strength in numbers in its FHSAA state tennis girls championship match against Steinbrenner of Tampa on Tuesday afternoon in Altamonte Springs.

The Lions, spurred by a loud and proud contingent of more than 20 team members who cheered on their five starters, came from behind in doubles matches to take the lead in the Class 4A state final at Sanlando Park. But despite the vocal encouragement for Lake Nona, the Warriors turned the tide in the singles matches and pulled out a 4-2 victory.

That result left the Lions as a state runner-up for the second time, following a second-place showing in 2019. Its boys program was a runner-up in ’19 and the 4A state champ in ’22. But with only one senior in the starting lineup this week’s FHSAA finals experience bodes well for the future of Orange County’s powerhouse program.

The spark that turned up the volume for Lake Nona’s fan base and encouraged a young but talented team was a comeback win in the first match to finish — a dramatic doubles victory by sophomores Aspen Wooten and sophomore Shrika Moturi.

Nona’s No. 2 tandem lost the first set 1-4 but rallied to level the score with a 5-3 second-set victory. That forced a 10-point tiebreaker and Moturi rose to the occasion with a splendid display at the net. She scored on two volleys to tie the score at 5 and won a go-ahead point where she returned three quick-reaction stabs before deftly carving a drop shot for the lead.

Moturi made it 8-5 with an angled forehand and Wooten upped that to 9-5 with a winner. After two Lake Nona errors closed the gap, Moturi sealed the deal with another crosscourt winner for the 10-7 win.

“We just never gave up,” Moturi said. Regarding her play at the net she smiled and said, “Those were important moments. Really glad.”

Lake Nona players in the stands erupted in applause on match point and jumped out of one set of bleachers to hustle and find seating in the bleachers on the other side of a walkway that looked down on the No. 1 doubles match, which was still in play.

Gabriel Almanza, a senior, and junior Elieta Said also lost their first set 1-4 against Steinbrenner’s Savita Bagirathan and Allison Kehler. But Lake Nona again rallied to take the second set 5-3 and the tiebreaker (10-8).

A strong serve by Said set up an Almanza overhead smash for a 9-8 lead in the tiebreaker and Said closed the match by ripping a serve return Steinbrenner couldn’t handle.

Almanza experienced some leg pain late in her doubles match and was unable to play No. 1 singles.

In the No. 2 match Wooten split sets with Sienna Frizelle, but lost a heartbreaking 11-9 tiebreaker. Moturi also lost a tiebreaker in No. 3 singles and Beatriz Hubner dropped a close No. 5 match.

Steinbrenner qualified for the eight-team tournament for the first time last year and had scored its first title.

Lake Nona’s boys, also with just one senior starter, were unbeaten until they fell 4-0 against Cypress Bay of Broward County in a morning semifinal.

Lake Highland Prep lost a 2A semifinal match 4-2 against Mast Academy at Red Bug Lake Park in Casselberry. The Highlander’s singles wins were by No. 3 Jackson Bates and No. 4 Zachary Zang.

Lake Nona coach Tom Beard acknowledged that his team enjoyed a home field advantage with its spectators far outnumbering the opposition. He’s also thankful that Lake Nona’s strong connections with the nearby U.S. Tennis Association National Campus feeds the Lions a steady stream of talent.

A measure of that depth is the fact that 44 different players (girls and boys) won matches in the regular season. That’s despite the fact that a number of premier players who train at the sprawling USTA center opt to focus on high-level training instead of participating in high school play.

Winter Park junior Jerald Carroll got a rest day. On Wednesday, he is scheduled to play for the 4A individual singles final and the double title with his partner, ninth grader Tristan Bradu, at Sanlando.

In girls doubles quarterfinal matches, Celebration teammates Valeria Lopez and Diana Perez gave the No. 1 seeds, Stefany Zamora and Payton Seidle-Lubowitz of MAST Academy some problems before losing 7-5, 6-3.

The Seminole High tandem of Kyndall Smith and Saamiyah Rattansi split sets against Jupiter sisters Gianna and Siany Panaggio before falling in a 10-point tiebreaker.

Varsity content editor Buddy Collings can be reached by email at