Coming into high school this year as a freshman, Atholton's Victoria Kogan had few expectations. Having played tennis off and on since she was seven years old, she could have hoped for some individual prosperity. And playing for a team that went a combined 40-25 over the previous four seasons, she could have anticipated moderate team success.
But what actually happened — Kogan won more than 20 straight matches, including county and regional titles, and the Raider girls went 16-1, earning the regular season county championship as well as county and regional tournament trophies — was almost more than she could have dreamed of.
"River Hill has been so dominant for so long (winning four straight girls county titles and tournament trophies), it was nice to knock them off for a change," said Kogan, who can now add Columbia Flier/Howard County Times Player of the Year to her list of accomplishments.
Kogan, who grew up in Columbia, also played soccer as a child, but it took her only a few years with a racket in her hand to realize that tennis was the sport she wanted to pursue.
And Kogan's story flips the script on the traditional tale of the tennis prodigy. Rather than being spurred on to more training and tournaments by her overzealous parents, Kogan led mom and dad to get active on the courts.
"After I started playing my family started to play, so it was kind of the other way around," she said.
And this season, Julia and Vladimir Kogan had a younger role model sitting at the dinner table with them each evening.
Kogan's closest matches came against Wilde Lake sophomore Melissa Barall, who placed fourth in the state at mixed doubles last year.
Coach Mike Ashmead, who was impressed by Kogan's combination of power, ball control and placement, said that she is the best freshman he's ever coached.
"She knows how to out think her opponents, she always keeps her head," he said. "She was the best player on the girls team but it never got to her head. She was very respectful of the captains."
But Kogan, who won an L3 USTA Junior Open 16s tournament at Georgetown Prep in early June, still has plenty that she wants to do in high school.
After losing in the first round of this year's state tournament to Bethesda-Chevy Chase's Anna Rozenberg, the eventual state finalist, Kogan is especially eager to make a better showing next year.
"A loss in the first round is a disappointing thing, of course, but it got me really motivated for next year," said Kogan, who has a busy summer of training and tennis camps ahead of her. "I definitely want to do better at states, go farther this time."
She is also looking forward to another very successful year by her teammates.
"(This season) was a team effort. No one was expected to win every match and everyone was friends with each other," she said. "I think the whole team could really go far again and maybe start a streak, an Atholton winning streak."
Also named to the all-county team:
Melissa Barall, Wilde Lake. Followed a freshman campaign in which she placed fourth in the state at mixed doubles by advancing to the county and regional finals at singles this year, losing both times to Kogan. Went on to win a match at the state tournament.
Annie Evaldsson, Reservoir. The Swedish exchange student starred for the Gators, going 14-3 during the regular season, and placing third at both the county and regional tournaments.
Emma Hoesman, Howard. The sophomore played singles for the Lions all season, then joined up with Kyle Shope during the postseason to go on an impressive run. The team earned county and regional titles and placed a strong third at states, with their only loss coming in three sets to the eventual champion.
Rachel Knobel, Atholton. The junior served as a veteran leader for the young Raiders, who went 16-1 to win the regular season county title. Also joined up with teammate Margaret Tatum to win a county title, propelling Atholton to the County Cup, and placed third at regionals.
Nicole Leaf, Marriotts Ridge. After earning all-county honors last year as a sophomore by playing girls doubles with her sister, Brianne, Leaf switched to mixed doubles this season with Brooks Chilcoat and finished the regular season undefeated, helping the Mustangs to a sterling 15-2 record.
Serene Mathew, Mt. Hebron. Despite placing third at the county tournament after losing to Knobel and Tatum, Mathew and teammate Sahini Pothireddy bounced back to win the regional championship in straight sets and then won a match in the opening round of the state tournament.
Megan Mishra, Centennial. In a wild girls doubles field, Mishra and teammate Isabel Yu were one of the most consistent teams in the county. The Eagles pair placed second at the county and regional tournaments, and then upset the top seed in the opening round of the state tournament before falling in the quarterfinals to the eventual state champion. Also helped Centennial to a 13-2 record.
Sahini Pothireddy, Mt. Hebron. Finished third at the county tournament after losing to Knobel and Tatum, but rebounded to win the regional championship in straight sets and then won a match in the opening round of the state tournament alongside freshman teammate Mathew.
Alana Ravasio, Marriotts Ridge. Although overshadowed by another freshman, Atholton's Kogan, this rookie was nearly as impressive and also has a bright future. Playing No. 1 singles most of the season, she helped Marriotts Ridge to a 15-2 record, then placed fourth at both the county and regional tournaments even though she was not seeded.
Margaret Tatum, Atholton. The sophomore joined up with Knobel to win the girls doubles county title, putting an exclamation point on the Raiders' first Howard County Cup since 2007, then placed third at regionals. Also helped Atholton to a regular season county championship.
Isabel Yu, Centennial. The senior team captain partnered with Mishra to make a formidable doubles team, placing second at the county and regional tournaments, and then upsetting the top seed in the opening round of the state tournament before falling in the quarterfinals to the eventual state champion. Also guided the Eagles to an impressive 13-2 regular season record.