In a year meant for continued rebuilding, the Warriors pulled off a perfect regular season on the tennis court.
Not all endings capped by losses are negative.
Just ask the West Orange High girls tennis team.
Coming off a close, 4-3 win over Oviedo in the Class 4A regional semifinal, the Warriors were matched with the nationally ranked Winter Park Wildcats in the regional final Thursday, April 25.
Warriors head coach Marilyne Ross knew her team had a challenge in front of them, and she was correct — the Wildcats blanked West Orange 5-0.
“We went in with that feeling that we were going to do our best and fight, and do the best that we could do,” Ross said. “Although we lost — they (Winter Park) are a good team — they were just happy that they got the opportunity to face such a good school in Winter Park.
“Some of them felt it was one of the best games they had played this season, so it really pushed their tennis to the next level and they appreciated that,” she said.
The loss itself was just that — a loss — but by finishing at the regional final, following a perfect season, it was a signifier of what the program could accomplish. The team’s motto this season — “It’s not about the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog” — proved to be the perfect descriptor for everything the team had been able to do despite setbacks since Ross took over three years ago.
In her first year as head coach, the team made it to regionals, where they lost in the first round. Then, Windermere High arrived.
Just as with the boys team, the girls tennis team was decimated by transfers who made their way over to Windermere last year. It was a total rebuilding effort, and eventually the Warriors found their identity.
“Last season was hard — it was a struggle getting the players to have that winning mindset,” Ross said. “I think somewhere halfway in the season, it started to come together for us when we played against Lake Minneola. … We had a good talk there, and it started turning things around a bit for them.”
Unlike last year, this season’s success didn’t wait long to show. It started in the first match, against the team who featured multiple former players.
Looking for revenge following last year’s loss to the Wolverines, the Warriors took home a tight 4-3 win.
“That was our first big win of the season, and it just kept on going from there,” Ross said. “It really catapulted the season for them.”
From there, the Warriors took down team after team — including Olympia and Dr. Phillips, who had given them fits for as long as they could remember.
It actually was the losses to those two teams in the past that added fuel to her team’s fire, Ross said.
“They were tired of being beaten up by Olympia and Dr. Phillips, so when they came in this season, they were willing to work, and they were willing to practice,” Ross said. “They just did what was needed to be done.”
And those two wins came up at an important time for West Orange. The Warriors took out Olympia in a 5-2 win in the district semis, before going on to knock off Dr. Phillips to claim the district title. That title was preceded by a 5-2 win over Edgewater to claim the West Metro championship.
Before they knew it, the Warriors were 14-0 and reigning Metro and district champions — thanks in part to players such as Shelley Peach and Morgan DeLattre.
Although the season ended for the Warriors in that regional final, Ross has time to look ahead to next year, which will see almost all her players returning.
“Everybody is saying they’re coming back, and they’re all excited, so that’s even more exciting to me,” Ross said.