Rutherford tennis contends for first state championship

SPRINGFIELD, Fla. (WJHG/WECP) - Regardless of what happens this week, the Rutherford girls tennis team has already accomplished a program first.

The Rams left for Orlando at 8 AM Sunday morning. At 8AM Monday the Rams play Holy Names, making their debut in the state tournament as a team.

They're led by captain Ari Cortes and Isabel Ceydeli, both of whom are undefeated in matches and even sets. Danielle Bansagi, Mary Granducci, Eliannah Anderson and Hayley Damon also advance.

As with many programs around here, there was doubt they'd even have a season. School courts were destroyed by the hurricane and not replaced.

Panama City Racquet Club and Oakland Terrance stepped up to provide space for limited practice and play time. The Rams also relied on each other.

"We practiced early mornings on Tuesdays and Thursdays at the Racquet Club. We could practice in the afternoons at Oakland Terrace but those were joint practice sessions with Mosley and Bay," head coach DaShoan Olds said. "I had to really depend on my girls to take the time to go work out themselves. They worked out at home, training individually. And you can see it at the games."

Indeed, they didn't make it to the 2A bracket on talent alone. Their commitment to each other paved the way, spearheaded by a Cortes.

"She has been a great leader for our program," Olds added. "She set the attitude from the very beginning, a straight positive attitude. She led practices, got everybody together, she gave rides to kids who could not get to the racquet club or Oakland Terrace, and she really was a leader just getting all the girls together and on one page."

First round matches begin Monday morning. In 3A, the Niceville boys also compete as a team.