Barron Collier's No. 1 singles player Brittany Delaney was struggling through a tough second set at the Class 3A-6 regional final against Bradenton Bayshore.
Playing against a feisty foe in Nina Alinpic, Delaney was down on herself.
Several times, she muttered things like "this is the worst tennis I can play" and "a 2-year-old could play better than this."
If Delaney was playing at her worst, the Cougars certainly were happy with the end result, as the senior shook off the frustrating second set for a 6-1, 3-6, 6-0 win.
The match gave the Cougars a pivotal fourth team point, as Barron Collier rolled to a 6-1 victory at Naples Bath and Tennis Center. With the win, the defending state champions go back to the state tournament, which will be held next Wednesday through Friday in Altamonte Springs.
"During the break (between the second and third sets), I kept thinking about all the things I should have done and just re-focused on doing the things that were working in the first set," Delaney said. "My coaches were telling me I was being too tentative and I pretty much agreed. In the third set, I got more aggressive and went for more risky shots."
The strategy certainly paid off, as she dusted Alinpic off easily in the third set. Delaney knew a win in her match would clinch a spot in the state tournament, and she used that and a sometimes testy opponent to fuel her tennis game.
"I fed off all of that, I was really fired up for that last set," Delaney said. "Once I got going and took the lead, I knew I could finish it off."
Delaney certainly wasn't the only impressive winner for the Cougars. Grace Johnson, Gabby Ciferni and Bean Johnstone — the Cougars' No. 3 through 5 singles players — lost a combined three games in straight-set victories.
Johnson, a sophomore, is eagerly awaiting the start of Wednesday's state tournament.
"I was the No. 6 player last year, so basically I was an alternate," she said. "This year, I'm going to play so I'm pretty excited about that. I'm proud of my teammates. We're the defending state champions, so everyone was gunning for us this year. To go into the state tournament undefeated is a great accomplishment."
Johnstone, a senior who teams up with Johnson to form an unbeaten No. 2 doubles team, proudly showed off her championship ring from last year.
"I'm stoked to go back to states again," Johnstone said. "We're all confident we can go there and win it again if we all play the way we're capable of playing."
Coach Nancy Eberhardt loves her team's confidence and thinks the Cougars' depth will serve them well in Altamonte Springs.
"There might be some No. 1 or No. 2 singles players who might be better, but not too many teams have the depth that we have," she said. "We're very balanced throughout the lineup and are strong in doubles, which is often crucial at states."
Barron Collier begins defense of its state title Wednesday morning in Altamonte Springs. Matches begin at 9 a.m.
Class 3A Region 6 girls tournament at Naples Bath & Tennis
Barron Collier 6, Bradenton Bayshore 1
Singles — 1. Delaney (BC) def. Alinpic, 6-1, 3-6, 6-0; 2. Contreras (BB) def. Vaughan, 6-3, 6-7, 6-4; 3. Grace Johnson (BC) def. Popaga, 6-1, 6-1; 4. Ciferni (BC) def. Officer, 6-0, 6-1; 5. Johnstone (BC) def. De Sa Nogueira, 6-0, 6-0; Doubles — 1. Delaney/Ciferni (BC) def. Alinpic/Contreras, 8-1; 2. Johnson/Johnstone (BC) def. Popaga/Officer, 8-1.