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Freshman Vajani leads county's tennis honorees


Underclassmen took a back seat to no one in county tennis this spring -- a freshman, three sophomores and a junior took five of the eight county title spots.

South River freshman sensation Priya Vajani was the only one in her class to win both county and regional titles.

The petite 14-year-old compiled a 19-2 record, capturing both county and regional titles en route to a fourth-place seeding in the state tournament, where she was beaten in the second round in a tough three-set match.

These credentials have earned Vajani the honor of The Anne Arundel County Sun's Female Tennis Player of the Year.

The steady Seahawk had been eagerly anticipating her initial scholastic season after finishing in the top 20 in the Mid-Atlantic Tennis Association 14-and-under junior circuit in 1991.

"I had been looking forward to playing high school tennis. I think you gain more experience, and it's more fun because you play for a team, not just for yourself," said Vajani.

With Vajani at the No. 1 singles slot, South River went 7-5, playing teams such as Severna Park and Chesapeake closely.

She avenged her lone regular-season loss to Arundel's Jen Whitley by upending the Wildcats junior, 6-4, 6-0, in the county tourney final. She beat freshman Keely Alexander of Hammond High before bowing out in the state championships to Churchill's Tracy Gold, 6-4, 3-6, 3-6.

Phil White, 17, and Matt Pharr, 18, the Anne Arundel County Sun's Male Players of the Year, finished brilliant careers at Old Mill with a flourish.

The senior doubles team helped the Patriots to a share of the regular-season team championship (with Arundel) and the county tournament team title.

They compiled a record of 23-1 as a doubles team. And they capped their county championship and second-place regional finish with a dramatic come-from-behind 5-7, 6-3, 7-6 (7-3) victory over Churchill High's Matt Brown and Rameen Soltani in the state finals.

It was White's second state doubles title; he and Brent Layman won last season. Pharr, an All-County mixed doubles selection last year with Beth Zawislak, won his first state crown.

"This year's win was even more satisfying than last year's, because we were unseeded and lots of people, especially from Montgomery [County] were saying, 'Who are these guys?,' " said White, who has narrowed his college choices to the University of Maryland at Baltimore County and Frostburg State University.

Pharr, who along with White was a veteran member of the Old Mill's golf team, still needs to pinch himself once in a while to

believe what transpired on a hot late-May evening.

"I'm still excited about it [the win]. I don't know how we did it, but it was like once we won the quarterfinals, we were supposed to win it," said Pharr. He will chose between Frostburg and Anne Arundel Community College.

In the state quarterfinal, Stephan Decatur's Dale Cathell and Alex Frashetti had a 6-4, 5-1 lead going into the seventh game, with two match points. The Old Mill combo fought off both match points and went on to win the set, 7-5, giving them the momentum to take the third set, 6-3.

"We might not have been the best team in the [state] tournament, but I think we were the smartest. We made people play our game, instead of us playing theirs," said White.

Severna Park, which came into the 1992 season on the crest of a match win streak, had one of the youngest teams in the county this season.

With six sophomores and two freshmen to go with one senior on a 15-player varsity squad, the Falcons finished 10-2 during the regular season, tying Broadneck for third place and placing a surprising second in the county tournament -- just two points behind Old Mill, 32-30.

Even more surprising were the exploits of two of its doubles teams. Erica Fulton and Ben Rawitt won the state and county crowns in mixed doubles, while Sarah Keller and Allison Milchanowski took county and regional girls doubles titles, and reached the quarterfinals of the states.

Neither of these two teams had started the season playing together. However, The Anne Arundel County Sun Coach of the Year, Marge Nicholson, used her knowledge to transform both units into winning combinations.

The eighth-year mentor was able to keep her team playing at a high level despite the loss of 1991 state singles champion Katherine Hobbs, who chose not to play during her senior year.

Nicholson kept the Falcons' morale up after a heartbreaking 5-4 early season loss to Old Mill, which ended their county record 69-match win streak.

"Before the season started, I really didn't want to lose more than two matches, although in the back of my mind, I thought we would," said Nicholson, a repeat as Coach of the Year who edged Arundel's Greg Helms and Chesapeake's Ginny Barnicoat.

"I think we did very well this year. We only lost twice when we could have easily lost five. Broadneck, Chesapeake and South River all gave us very tough matches."

Nicholson, who led the junior duo of Joe Laidley and Andy Smith to a second-place finish in the county tourney, also guided freshman girls singles player Bronwyn Williams to a fourth-place finish in the county tourney. Williams missed a regional berth by losing to Southern's Mollie Benz.

All-County tennis team

Boys singles: Matt Servinsky (Old Mill), senior; county and regional champion.

Girls singles: Priya Vajani (South River), freshman; county and regional champion.

Boys doubles: Phil White and Matt Pharr (Old Mill), seniors; county and state champions, regional finalists.

Girls doubles: Sarah Keller and Allison Milchanowski (Severna Park), sophomores; county and regional champions.

Mixed doubles: Erica Fulton and Ben Rawitt (Severna Park), junior, sophomore; county and state champions, regional finalists.

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