Howard County Times tennis reporter Andrew Conrad recaps the 2014 season with standout players and teams.

So far, 2014 has been a very memorable year for Matt Sklar. Soon after completing his sophomore tennis season at Atholton, which included regular season and Howard County Cup titles to go along with individual boys singles championships at both the county and regional tournaments, Sklar hopped on a plane to Oregon, then headed to Arizona to spend several weeks visiting his cousin.

After returning to Maryland in late July, he'll have a few weeks to relax before heading to Sweden to visit a family friend.

Even while traveling the globe, though, Sklar — the Columbia Flier/Howard County Times boys tennis Player of the Year — is taking time to stay on top of his game, hitting and running the court in the scorching, 100 degree Arizona heat.

"I'm going to make sure to work on my fitness," said Sklar, who first swung a racket at age five and has been playing competitively since age 10. "Being able to grind out those long, grueling points is going to be important next year."

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Despite winning county and regional titles, and leading his team to its third consecutive County Cup, Sklar is well aware that repeating that individual and team success will require even more preparation than he put in between his freshman and sophomore seasons.

The Raiders graduate twin brothers George and Mark Mao, while many of Sklar's top challengers — including Marriotts Ridge rising junior Cade Buch and River Hill rising sophomore Prateek Swamykumar — will return to push him again next spring.

Buch, known for his booming strokes, was the only county player to defeat Sklar this spring, in the last match of the regular season. When Sklar saw him again in the county finals, he changed his approach and won the rematch in straight sets.

"He's a very technical player. He has very good ball placement," coach Michael Ashmead said of his star sophomore. "He has that talent to hold back his power in favor of consistency."

The same formula worked again against Buch in the regional finals.

"I knew there was no way that I could out hit him, so I had to outlast him," Sklar said. "When I was younger, that's how I played against everyone. This year I adapted on more of an individual basis."

Even adapting to singles play was a transition this spring for Sklar, who won a regional title at boys doubles last year alongside George Mao.

"This year it was just me," said Sklar, who has played hundreds of singles matches in USTA competition. "It's much different playing singles. You're pretty much all alone out there. In doubles you have someone else out there with you to take some of the pressure off."

As a freshman last year, Sklar was able to blend into a large field of talented singles players, including Reservoir state champion Biyik Akinshemoyin, Howard regional finalist Andrew Pagan, and teammate Scott Lee among others. Those three graduated, and River Hill freshman county finalist Alec Angradi opted not to play scholastically this spring.

"I knew there were a lot of good singles players graduating. I knew what I was going up against and I knew I could go up against anyone," said Sklar, who also dabbles in basketball, soccer and swimming. "After the regular season I definitely was thinking about" winning a county title.

At the state tournament, Sklar showed that he belonged by cruising to an opening-round win over his opponent from Dulaney, then taking three games from Whitman's Aries Wong, the eventual state champion, in a quarterfinal loss.

"The state tournament was pretty fun," said Sklar, who was Atholton's lone representative at College Park this year. "Hopefully we'll be back next year with even more people."

Even while he satisfies his wander lust this summer, Sklar is already looking forward to leading the Raiders to another successful season next spring.

"We have a deep team. Hopefully we can win (a fourth straight County Cup) next year," he said.

Beyond that, playing college tennis at a high level is an even bigger dream for Sklar.

"His goal is to play for a DI school, and he's holding up his end of the bargain," said Ashmead, who teaches Sklar at Atholton in advanced science classes. "He's a great player and a great student too.