At the beginning of any new sports season, the goal is simple: to improve on last year's results. But for Howard County tennis as a whole, improving on the accomplishments of last spring may be a ludicrously high standard to strive for.
Last year, Howard County crowned two state singles champions — Reservoir senior Biyik Akinshemoyin and Atholton freshman Irene Lu — for the first time in history.
It was also the first time that two players from the same team competed against each other for a state title: Lu defeated sophomore teammate Victoria Kogan for the state championship.
Unfortunately for Howard County public school teams, none of those players will be back.
Akinshemoyin is now playing for UMBC, while Lu and Kogan have stepped away from high school tennis.
So while there are not any defending champions this year, the county tournament could be very exciting.
"This year's favorite as county champion should be Cade (Buch) from Marriotts Ridge, but Atholton and River Hill should have some solid players to challenge him," Howard coach Chip Boling said. "The girls county singles title (is) wide open."
Look for Wilde Lake senior Melissa Barrall, River Hill senior Caitlin Stewart-Moore to compete for the county's top spot, although Marriotts Ridge freshman Abby Thornton is a tournament seasoned player who could take the state by storm the way Lu did last year. River Hill freshman Prateek Swamykumar could challenge Buch for the boys title.
While last year was a year for singles players to shine, this spring might be Howard County's chance to show its power in doubles play: Mt. Hebron's Kiran Pant and Serene Mathew (girls doubles), Atholton's George Mao and Matt Sklar (boys doubles) and Howard's Emma Hoesman and Max Balter (mixed doubles) all have the experience to go deep at the state tournament in late May.
At Wilde Lake, veteran coach Ron Shelton has stepped down after 18 seasons, but he will be replaced by another veteran coach, Ross Hannon, who has coached just about every sport during his time in Howard County.
A look at each Howard County tennis team as we head into the season.
Coach: Michael Ashmead, fourth season
Boys 2013 record: 11-6; Girls 2013 record: 17-0 (county champion). County Cup champion.
Boys singles: Sophomore Matt Sklar and senior George Mao
Girls singles: Elizabeth Sangvic and Erin Nguyen
Boys doubles: Mark Mao and Collin McEwen
Girls doubles: Senior Margaret Tatum and Erica Lee