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Tennis

Tennis: Damrongsri tunes up for college career

Mt. Hebron grad, the 2009 county champion, looks back on high school, ahead to college

By Andrew Conrad, aconrad@patuxent.com

10:09 AM EDT, July 14, 2011

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For recent Mt. Hebron High School grad Van Damrongsri, Senior Week in Ocean City was a very welcome and very different experience.

For several days in a row, Damrongsri — who is accustomed to spending more than 20 hours per week on a tennis court — just enjoyed the beach and the boardwalk, and spending time with classmates.

"That was pretty fun, I'm going to miss my friends when I head off to college," said Damrongsri, who has been recruited to play for the No. 24 ranked University of Louisville next year. "I only have this summer to spend with them."

Damrongsri's typical week involves a full day Monday through Friday at the world-classTennis Center at College Park — four hours of tennis, 1.5 hours of strength and fitness training — and one weekend day spent with a personal trainer. The other one, either Saturday or Sunday, is his own.

"I've just been training every day pretty much," he said.

And when he's not training, Damrongsri keeps up a busy travel schedule.

Over the July Fourth weekend, he made it to the semifinals of the 18s singles bracket at the USTA National Open in Aston, Pa., losing to the top-seed in a second set tiebreaker. From July 17 to 24, he'll compete in the Clay Court Nationals, in Delray Beach, Fla. Then, after returning to Maryland for a week of training, it's off to Kalamazoo, Mich., for the USTA National Championships.

During winter break, Damrongsri spent two weeks in Thailand — where he still has ancestors — and got to play in front of U.S. national team coaches; and alongside twin brothers, Bob and Mike Bryan, the world's top-ranked doubles team, as well as other professional players. The trip was part of an international tennis event.

He had plans to return to Thailand this spring to play in some ATP tournaments, but it turned out that would have conflicted with the end of the school year at Mt. Hebron.

Damrongsri, who won a county title for Mt. Hebron in 2009 as a sophomore, had hoped to return to the high school courts this past spring to play one last season in a Vikings uniform and vie for a state title.

He would have been a strong candidate to win state gold two years ago, but a USTA tournament conflicted with the regional tournament that year and he had to bow out of the postseason.

But to be a true member of the high school team this spring would have meant sacrificing time working with his personal coaches and trainers, and playing in USTA tournaments. And even though he had already secured a scholarship to Louisville, where he plans to study exercise science, Damrongsri's drive to improve didn't allow him to let up for even a few months.

"I would have liked to think that I had the time to play high school tennis, but I'm still a little nervous about making the team at Louisville and making the singles ladder," he said. "In college, everyone can hit the ball as hard as I can and even bigger … (But) I wish I could have played at states and won a state title for my school."

University of Lousville assistant coach Rodrigo da Silva — who scouted Damrongsri along with head coach Rex Ecarma leading up to his recruitment — agreed that moving from junior play to college is a major leap, but also said that Damrongsri is a rare talent.

"College tennis is very physical, and that's one of the things that is most difficult for junior players to adjust to," said daSilva, who had already noticed Damrongsri's improved physique during an orientation visit earlier this summer. "He's a tall guy but he plays very easy, with flow. For bigger guys, that doesn't always come easy."

Da Silva also praised Damrongsri's discipline, an asset that makes him one of the Cardinals top recruits.

"We love his work ethic, he really puts in a lot of hard work on the court … he's been getting better every time we see him," da Silva said. "We think he's going to make an impact in both singles and doubles … we're really excited to have him."

And Damrongsri has no plans to let up now on his preparations for the next level of competition. After all, he doesn't need to look far to see what a player from Ellicott City can accomplish with hard work.

Beatrice Capra, who made an international splash when she played Maria Sharapova in the third round of the 2010 U.S. Open, recently dropped in at College Park before heading off to start her collegiate tennis career at Duke University this fall.

"She's been at College Park this summer, so I've been able to practice with her," he said. "I would love to do what she did."

Kent continues to thrive at Delaware

While Damrongsri prepares to break through at Lousville, another former Howard County standout — 2009 Glenelg Country grad Ryan Kent — continues to make his mark at Division I Delaware.

As a sophomore this past season, Kent set the Blue Hens all-time single season doubles wins record with fellow sophomore Robbie Kay. The pair won 19 matches this season at No. 2 and 3 doubles, breaking a 37-year-old Delaware record.

Kent, who led Glenelg Country to its first and only Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association B Conference team title in 2008 and was named the county Player of the Year as a senior, has also played at No. 3 and 6 singles for the Blue Hens this season. In his two-year singles career at Delaware, he is 19-12.