Last spring, the Howard boys tennis team defeated traditional powerhouses Centennial and River Hill, and finished with a record of 14-3, second best in the county behind undefeated champion Atholton.
It was the Lions' best season in more than a decade, an outcome that few opponents expected heading into the spring. This year, Howard will not have the element of surprise on its side. But it may not matter.
After graduating only two starters from last year's team, the Lions are poised to take the next step in 2012.
"It has been a long time (since) teams have gunned for Howard, but this team is focused with a county title on (its) mind," fifth-year coach Chip Boling said. "On any given day, our top four players can beat each other ... last year was no fluke and tennis at Howard is on the rise."
Led by senior Seth Hoesman and junior Andrew Pagan at the singles spots, the Lions will be tough to beat this year. But Atholton, which has a record of 61-4 over the past four seasons, can't be overlooked. The Raiders graduated county finalist Steven Lee, but return his younger brother — Scott — as well as accomplished seniors Charles Mao and Zach Kim.
In the race for the coveted boys singles county championship, Reservoir's defending champion, Biyik Akinshemoyin, is the prohibitive favorite. The tall and athletic junior placed fourth at the state tournament last year, and now has his sights set on a state title.
River Hill freshman Nick Zhu, who trains alongside Akinshemoyin at the College Park Tennis Center and plays a rigorous USTA tournament schedule, will be a player to watch, and could give Akinshemoyin some competitive matches.
Centennial juniors Kevin Hsieh and Chase Weinberg were the county and regional doubles champions last year, and Hsieh was the only county player to defeat Akinshemoyin.
On the girls side, Akinshemoyin's new teammate — junior Swedish exchange student Annie Evaldsson — is very experienced, and will be a strong candidate to compete for a county title and more.
In the team race, it's hard to imagine anyone other than River Hill ruling the county. The Lady Hawks have won four straight county titles, going 60-4 during that stretch. However, that was with Rena Shi and Audrey Cheng leading the way. Both of those players have graduated, leaving a great void to fill.
A pair of talented youngsters — sophomore Caitlin Stewart-Moore and junior Kiera Hanrahan — elevate to the top of the Hawks' ladder.
"We are a relatively young girls team but (there is) still a lot of talent coming up," River Hill coach Jennifer Stoker said.
The Atholton girls team, which won nine matches last year without a senior in its top four, could be a strong contender as one of the most experienced teams in the league.
Last year, a mixed doubles spot was added to competition during the second half of the league season. This year, mixed doubles will be contested from start to finish.
In the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association, Glenelg Country returns conference finalist Evan Schlick after a 6-2 season.
Omri Kagan takes over for Bobby Hoffman at Hammond. Hoffman spent three seasons with the Golden Bears, leading the girls to 35 wins and county runner-up performances in 2009 and 2010. He is in charge of the Columbia Association's Junior Tennis Program, and no longer has the necessary time to devote to the Hammond team, but he figures to still be active in the local high school tennis scene. Kagan, a fourth-year math teacher at Hammond, was born in Israel and played basketball and tennis while growing up in Houston. He served as a paratrooper in the Israel Defense Forces and graduated from the University of Texas at Austin.
Here's a look at each Howard County team heading into the season.
Coach: Michael Ashmead, second season
Boys: 17-0 (county champion); Girls: 9-8
Boys singles: Junior Scott Lee and senior Eric Zhou
Boys doubles: Seniors Zach Kim and Charles Mao
Girls singles: Freshman Victoria Kogan and junior Jenna Sweet
Girls doubles: Junior Rachel Knobel and sophomore Margaret Tatum
Scouting report: The boys are in good position to defend their county title with Lee replacing his older brother at No. 1 singles and the experienced team of Kim and Mao locking down the top doubles spot. The Raider girls seem primed for a big improvement over last year's campaign, with Kogan — a USTA experienced player — headlining a young but talented group.
Coach: Christina Harris, second season
Boys: 9-7; Girls: 10-6
Boys singles: Juniors Chase Weinberg, Kevin Hsieh and Cris Hernandez
Boys doubles: Sophomore Farhan Bader
Girls singles: Senior Kanami Mori, juniors Simone Jensen and Megan Mishra
Girls doubles: Senior Isabel Yu
Scouting report: The Eagles' line-up was still in flux as of press time, but Harris has lots of good options. Hsieh and Weinberg won county and regional doubles titles last spring, but will likely take on the singles competition during the regular season. On the girls' side, Mori is a defending mixed doubles county champion. She and a pair of juniors, Jensen and Mishra, will play most of the singles matches, though Mori might occasionally join fellow team captain Yu to form the Eagles' top girls doubles team.
Coach: Mary Ellen Doyle and Christine Gaylor, 13th season
Boys: 13-4; Girls: 7-10
Boys singles: Sophomore Byron Hung and senior Brett Eisenberg
Boys doubles: Senior Robbie Baker and sophomore Louis Colangelo
Girls singles: Junior Leigh Oehrig, freshmen Rita Hung and Clara Wang
Girls doubles: Juniors Rachel Hall and Jess Dietz, sophomore Christina Le
Scouting report: After combining to win 25 matches over the past two seasons, the Gladiator boys are in position for another strong campaign with Hung and Eisenberg leading a deep group. A bumper crop of incoming freshmen — led by Wang and Byron Hung's younger sister, Rita — have the Gladiator girls set to repeat the success of 2010, when they won 13 matches. Oehrig and Le both got experience with singles play last season.
Coach: Omri Kagan, first season
Boys: 1-16; Girls: 8-9
Boys singles: Seniors Minhwan Kim, Jeremy Green and Bo Mitchell
Boys doubles: Senior Gaurav Luthria
Girls singles: Senior Alison Curry and sophomore Katie Cheuvront
Girls doubles: Junior Robyn Jasper and sophomore Sherri Green
Scouting report: It's been a lean couple of years for the Golden Bear boys, who have just eight conquests in the past three seasons. But with Kim and Green both returning as experienced starters, an improvement could be in order this season. Mitchell could elevate to the No. 2 singles spot at some point, or join Luthria at the top doubles spot. The Hammond girls will have to rebound from the graduation of county champion Corinne Zahlis, along with the top doubles team of Olivia Plazak and Tarin Gentile. Curry did get some valuable singles experience last year.
Coach: Chip Boling, fifth season
Boys: 14-3; Girls: 9-8
Boys singles: Senior Seth Hoesman and junior Andrew Pagan
Boys doubles: Senior Kyle Shope and sophomores Cameron Proctor and Max Balter
Girls singles: Sophomore Emma Hoesman and senior Arielle Kazlow
Girls doubles: Juniors Michelle Hwang and Maddie Schroeder
Scouting report: The buzz around the tennis team at Howard has led to the highest turnout at tryouts in his five-year tenure, said Boling. While the girls will have to deal with the graduation of four of their top players, the boys return most of their talent from last year's breakout season. Seth Hoesman, whose younger sister will lead a youthful girls team, and Pagan are two of the best individuals in the league, but Shope, Proctor and Balter are all good enough to challenge them for their spots. That depth has the Lions thinking county title.
Coach: Bill Flick, seventh season
Boys: 0-15; Girls: 0-15
Boys singles: Senior Hugo Caldwell and John Shin
Boys doubles: Senior Nathan Tadesse and junior Jeremy Tsao
Girls singles: Senior Carli Greenspan and Brianna Goode
Girls doubles: Seniors Danielle Ellis and Christine Kim
Scouting report: There hasn't been a lot of excitement around the Lightning tennis team over the past few seasons — they haven't won a match since 2009 — but Greenspan has gradually gotten better since claiming the No. 1 singles spot as a sophomore, and can be counted on to win her share of matches. On the boys' side, Caldwell, Tadesse and Tsao all reprise their roles from a year ago, so familiarity will at least be on their side.
Coach: Scott Dingman, seventh season
Boys: 8-8; Girls: 14-2
Boys singles: Senior Phillip Romano and freshman Connor Bivens
Boys doubles: Sophomore Ben Klawson and freshman Christian Tringali
Girls singles: Junior Nicole Leaf and freshman Alanna Ravasio
Girls doubles: Sophomore Carolyn Keeney, junior Carly Weickgenannt and senior Ellen Blyth
Scouting report: While River Hill has been the undisputed champ in county girls competition for the past several seasons, the Mustangs have not been far behind, compiling a record of 50-15 over the past four years. But like River Hill, Marriotts Ridge has also been hit hard by graduation, losing eight seniors from last season. Leaf, who was a county and regional finalist with her older sister, Brianne, last year, returns as the top player, but she could end up playing either singles or doubles. The boys also lost a lot, with Romano returning as the most experienced veteran. Several experienced freshmen, Bivens and Tringali on the boys and Ravasio on the girls' side, are ready to contribute and should aid with the rebuilding process.
Coach: Lisa Vitali, seventh season
Boys: 8-8; Girls: 13-3
Boys singles: Senior Aryan Siahpoushan and sophomore Collin Chase
Boys doubles: Senior Benny Nuger and juniors Sam Borchers and Sam Weber
Girls singles: Freshman Stephanie Carroll and senior Bhuvana Bellala
Girls doubles: Senior Sahini Pothireddy, freshman Serene Mathew and junior Trish Carmona
Scouting report: Depth is definitely on the Vikings' side. Heading into the season, five different players vied for the boys singles spots with Siahpoushan and Chase emerging on top after a tough competition. Nuger and Borchers are essentially locked in at No. 1 doubles, but Chase and his older brother Evan could team up to make a formidable duo as well. On the girls' side, rookies Carroll and Mathew could be moved around the line-up — singles, doubles, mixed — as they become more experienced. Both are capable of playing No. 1 singles.
Coach: Victoria Knuckles, fifth season
Boys: 6-9; Girls: 3-12
Boys singles: Senior Kieran Buss and junior Jackson Bailey
Boys doubles: Junior David Last and sophomore Shaun Roberts
Girls singles: Sophomore Marjorie Buss and Debra Frimpong
Girls doubles: Senior Patrice Jones and Gabrielle Vincent
Scouting report: The Scorpions will again be led by the Buss siblings — Kieran on the boys team and Marjorie for the girls. Bailey, the boys No. 2 single, played doubles last year for a team that made a significant improvement of five wins over the 2010 campaign. The girls team lost quite a bit to graduation, but will hope to get some production from Jones, who scored almost eight points per game for the Oakland Mills basketball team that won 19 games this winter.
Coach: Karen Wolfe, fourth season
Boys: 3-12; Girls: 2-13
Boys singles: Juniors Biyik Akinshemoyin and Deepak Salem, senior Carey Locke
Boys doubles: Junior Joey Peterson and senior Nate Bell
Girls singles: Juniors Annie Evaldsson and Lisa Horowitz
Girls doubles: Seniors Lily Hong and Elon Peterson
Scouting report: Akinshemoyin will be the player with the target on his back entering the season, but he is well equipped to defend his spot on the top of the hill. The rest of the boys ladder is somewhat in flux, with a number of players on even footing. Evaldsson, a Swedish exchange student, has plenty of experience, and should be able to translate that into plenty of success in the county and state competitions. Horowitz had a solid season last year at top singles, so the Gators should definitely improve on their two wins from last spring.
Coach: Jennifer Stoker, second season
Boys: 13-4; Girls: 16-1 (county champion)
Boys singles: Freshman Nick Zhu and senior Jackson Feroe
Boys doubles: Seniors Jimmy Zhan and Oliver Zhao
Girls singles: Sophomore Caitlin Stewart-Moore and junior Kiera Hanrahan
Girls doubles: Sophomore Hannah Chun and freshman Lynette Lee, or seniors Anu Challa and Ariana Dial
Scouting report: The River Hill boys are deep enough that Zhan, one of last year's top No. 1 singles players, will be moving down to doubles to join Zhao on a team that should be a contender for the boys doubles county championship. As a tournament-level player, Zhu will be interesting to watch. On the girls side, Stewart-Moore and Hanrahan will get their chance to show what they can do now that Rena Shi and Audrey Cheng have graduated.
Coach: Ron Shelton, 17th season
Boys: 5-11; Girls: 6-10
Boys singles: Senior Ariya Zoghi and junior David Smart
Boys doubles: Senior Jason Seinfeld and junior Kiho Park
Girls singles: Sophomore Melissa Barrall and freshman Brittany Hicks
Girls doubles: Senior Vivian Morgan and sophomore Candace Ho
Scouting report: Wilde Lake found great success at mixed doubles last year, with one team (Andrew Baxley and Ana English) winning a regional title, and another (Barrall and Daniel Evans) placing fourth at the state tournament. Of those four players, though, only Barrall is back, so the opportunity is there for new players to step to the forefront.
Coach: Dennis Cochran, tenth season
Boys singles: Junior Evan Schlick and sophomore Sohrob Navai
Boys doubles: Freshmen Ryan Lundergan and Chris Jacobs
Scouting report: Schlick was a finalist at the MIAA 'B' Conference tournament last year, and helped the Dragons make it to the conference semifinals during league play. Lundergan and Jacobs played doubles together last year for the Glenelg Country middle school team, so they should be able to hit the ground running at varsity.