OKEECHOBEE — Originally the Okeechobee High School boys and girls tennis teams were scheduled to hold their senior night on March 31 before their match against Lake Placid.
But after COVID-19 caused the Florida High School Athletic Association (FHSAA) to press pause on all spring sports at high schools in the state, the seniors on the team missed out on that experience.
Both the boys and girls squads were relatively young this season, with the tennis program having only three seniors: Alize Merchant, Kara Hawk and Morgan Malika.
Alize Merchant was one of the team captains this year, and while she spent four years playing at OHS, overall she has played tennis for six years now.
“My father played and really helped develop my game into what it is today,” said Merchant before describing what her time was like with the OHS tennis program. “It was amazing being able to share my ups and downs with my teammates. I had an amazing four years.”
Alize went undefeated this season, and had a perfect 9-0 record before school was interrupted. After high school she plans to attend the University of Florida.
OHS tennis coach Omar Ayala says the possibility of the team not being able to finish the season has players feeling disappointed, noting the hard work the team has put into their record so far this year.
The girls team had an overall 8-1 record halfway through the season, while the boys were 7-3.
“I had a great time getting to know Alize this season,” said Ayala. “She works extremely hard in the classroom and in the court. It makes me proud to see her grow and to see her achieve the goals she has set for herself. Alize was our captain for the team and she helped pave the road for the underclassmen. We will miss her and wish her the best.”
Kara Hawk also played all four years in the OHS tennis program and says her time with the team was great and that she wouldn’t trade it for the world. After high school she plans to attend nursing school.
“Teamwork makes the dream work,” said Hawk when asked what her advice was for underclassmen on the team. “Keep your head out of the clouds.”
Before the break the girls team put together a seven-game win streak, including sweeping Martin County 7-0 two times. The boys had just won three back-to-back games, including two 7-0 sweeps of their own against Avon Park and Clewiston.
Sweeping Martin County twice was especially impressive for the girls considering most of the players on those teams are involved with the sport year-round.
“It’s extremely hard to compete against the teams against the coast,” explained Ayala. “They play all year and have more opportunities to play. But I told our team that it doesn’t matter who we are up against, we will compete and make them earn every point possible.”