By: J. Daniel Pearson

All Photos Courtesy Jeremiah Swartz/Gateway High School

Gateway’s girls’ basketball team made history last year by advancing to the FHSAA State Finals for the first time.  Now it’s the turn of the Lady Panthers tennis team.

Gateway’s number two doubles team of Anisa and Zulaika Hanfi broke a 3-3 tie with a dramatic victory against South Fork’s  Olivia DeGaetano and Aria Kaul to give the Panthers a 4-3 win over the Lady Bulldogs in last Thursday’s Region 7 Final.  The win sends them to this week’s state tournament.

The Panthers started their post-season by hosting the 3A, District 13 Tournament, where they piled up 19 of a possible 21 points to defeat St. Cloud, Horizon, Lake Buena Vista, East River and Liberty for their second consecutive district crown.

The first-ever regional win puts Gateway into this week’s FHSAA State Championship at Sanlando Park in Altamonte Springs.  Gateway (11-2) will open play on Wednesday, against an opponent to be determined on Monday night.  

The top four team seeds (St. Thomas Aquinas, Niceville, Baron Collier, Ponte Vedra) will play quarterfinal matches based on a blind draw held on Monday night against the other four regional champions (Gateway, Bartow, Sebring and St. Petersburg).

“Four of our top five players are seniors and they have been playing together for a long time,” Gateway coach Jeremiah Swartz said.  “So it was both thrilling and satisfying for those seniors to cap their last year off by winning the school’s first regional championship and making it to states.  It means a lot to our program and our school to set history.”

Depth was a major factor on Gateway’s advancement.

Seniors Anaila and Aurelia Cooks have been the top two singles players for a number of years and have also formed the school’s top doubles team.  Zulaika and Karima Hanfi held down the number three and four singles position for the Panthers; while Anisa Hanfi, the lone non-senior (sophomore) in the top five went undefeated in the regular season at the number five singles position.

As district champion at the number one singles spot, Anaila Cooks also qualified for the state individual championship.

Gateway is not the only school sending athletes to the state tennis championships.

Celebration’s top singles player Valeria Lopez won a district championship and will represent the Storm in the individual tournament; as will their number one doubles team of Lopez and freshman Diana Perez.  Lopez was 14-1 this season through the district tournament; while Lopez and Perez were 12-1 in doubles play.

The Lady Storm (13-3) repeated as district championships and defeated East Lake four to two in the regional semifinals but came up one match short of making the state tournament with a 4-0 loss to undefeated Steinbrenner.