The Royal Palm Beach High School girls tennis team recently won the conference championship while maintaining perfection with an unblemished record.
The conference is typically dominated by Wellington and Palm Beach Central high schools, however the Wildcats were able to best both schools, not once, but twice this season.
Third-year coach Gary Harmon did not expect such success with his team this year. “I always hope we are competitive, but I know what we are up against,” he said. “I had three starters graduate, so all I had going into this season was a returning number one and number five, and three girls who were new.”
The team chemistry was evident from the start; daily practices led to playing on the weekends. Players often argued with Harmon if he canceled a practice. A bond was forming that grew into a family-like atmosphere.
The Royal Palm Beach squad defeated the traditional local powerhouses on their schedule. “We talked about the possibilities of achieving something the school had never achieved before in girls tennis,” Harmon said. “On top of that, the possibility of completing an undefeated conference season.”
The Wildcats did drop three non-conference matches, to regional power Jupiter High School and to the Dreyfoos School of the Arts, but the team still managed an 11-3 overall record.
With six girls on the team, Harmon relied on his top players to mentor the new additions to the squad. “I had to keep it fun,” he said. “Drills and drills, but keeping it fun, because they could have gotten frustrated. We’ve surprised a lot of people.”
Third-year player and senior Kalina Middleton was instrumental in the Wildcats’ success this season. Middleton is the number two player on the team. “We did a lot of hard work this season,” she said. “We’re like a family and help each other with our flaws through the different routines.”
It was an emotional ride toward the end of conference play. “Some of us cried a little when we saw the look on the coach’s face,” Middleton said. “We were so proud.”
“It feels really good to be a part of the team’s growing success,” added senior Delleah Blake, the team’s number four player. “Coach Harmon is very instrumental to the team, and most generous.”
The players on the team illustrate a mature demeanor. “When we’re nervous before a big match against a tough opponent, coach Harmon always tells us to pretend like we’re at practice,” Blake said. “He’s always supportive.”
Harmon believes others will try out after the girls circulate the halls of the school with their conference championship jackets. “When the kids see their conference championship jackets, it will change the culture,” he said.
The team has an air of confidence but remains realistic in their approach.
“The top teams in the area know we are a force, and we are going to do our best,” Blake said.
The Wildcats competed in the district tournament this week, but results were not available by press time.