The Venice tennis teams honored four seniors on Thursday afternoon as both the girls and boys wrapped up the regular season with a match against Barron Collier of Naples — a regional opponent they could see again in two weeks.
Courtside Tennis Club hosted the Senior Day benefit for the Indians for the third consecutive year as Venice seniors Laura Kulcsar, Katelyn Houston, Mason Lai and Cooper Whisnant were honored.
After raising just under $1,000 for the team last year, Courtside brought in nearly another $1,000 of donations this year to help with the cost of uniforms, equipment and travel for Venice.
The girls lost a narrow match to the Cougars, 4-3, that came down to the wire while the boys pulled out a convincing 7-0 win.
But with the regular season now over, the Indians will turn their attention to the most important stretch of the year — district and regional playoffs.
“At districts, more than likely, it will come down to a head-to-head match — us vs. Fort Myers in every final,” Venice coach Wayne Robertson said. “So that’ll be the first step. Last year, the boys won and the girls lost by one point.
“So, we’d love to take that extra step. That way we can host the regional.”
While both teams made it to regionals last year, neither escaped that round as the girls were knocked out by Gulf Coast and the boys lost a 4-3 nail-biter to Naples.
Boys doubles tandem Ben Zipay and Ryan Rajakar advanced to the state level, but none of their teammates joined them.
For Venice, the heartbreaking losses in regionals is something that’s stuck with them for almost a year.
“It was tough because we lost all four of those in tiebreaks. Close tiebreaks, like 10-8,” Venice boys No. 1 player Ben Zipay said of last year’s regional loss. “So it was very winnable. That really motivated us this year to practice even harder and not have that happen this year. I’m a junior, and it’s happened to us twice because we barely lost to Fort Myers in regional finals the year before that. We really want it this year.”
Along with the steady improvement of players like Zipay and Rajakar, the addition of No. 4 singles player Alex Dina has made the team even more formidable — providing some depth that the Indians didn’t have in 2018.
“We added Alex Dina on our team,” Rajakar said. “He’s our four, so that’s just extra depth for our team. We have five good tournament players now. For a lot of teams, our four and five are like their one and two.”
After 16 matches this season, the boys team has lost just once — a 4-3 defeat to Sarasota — while the girls finished 10-6.
Though the boys are hoping for redemption in regionals, the girls have their eyes set on being one point better in next Tuesday’s district tournament.
Likely eyeing a rematch with Fort Myers, two key players for Venice will be the Kulcsar sisters — Nikki and Laura.
After the two moved to Venice from Kentucky just before high school, they gave the sport of tennis a try and have gotten better every year since. In last year’s district match against Fort Myers, the two combined to win the district tile.
Now in Laura’s senior year, the two are looking to take their winning one step further.
“It’s definitely a motivator,” Laura Kulcsar said of having her sister on the team. “We’re always comparing ourselves to each other. We really push each other to be better.
“Our goal this year is to win districts, make it to regionals and hopefully qualify for states.”
Another key contributor for Venice will be No. 1 girls singles player Jia Johnson, who has proven herself to be one of the top competitors in the area in singles and doubles play.
The first road block for both teams will be the Green Wave, who they will likely match up against when the district tournament begins at 8 a.m. on Tuesday at Charlotte High School.
“They remember that drive home from Naples,” Robertson said. “They want to do whatever they can do to make sure that doesn’t happen again. I would characterize on both teams that we’re looking to take that next step.
“For the girls, we’re looking to find that extra point at districts. For the guys, we want to find that extra point at regionals.”