Tim Coleman enters his third season as the Raiders' coach with high expectations. After posting a 6-8 record in 1991, Atholton moved into contention with perennial tennis power Centennial last year, finishing second in the regular season with a 10-4 record and second -- again to the Eagles -- in the county tournament.
"We have a strong team returning and should be in the running for first or second place if the boys develop," Coleman said.
Atholton's early strength will come from the girls, with six of the Raiders' top seven players returning. Junior Pam Yep will fill the No. 1 spot, followed by juniors Nicole Auclair, Jaime Green, Erin Getschman and Ellen Barth. Sophomore Jordana Dworkin and senior Sylvia Park round out the Raiders' ladder that Coleman said has "no superstars."
Coleman has four of his top seven boys players returning, led by No. 1 Josh Prangley, a sophomore who ascended to the Raiders' top spot last year, and No. 2 Brian Naftlay, a junior in his third varsity season.
Atholton's boys side is hoping to get a lift from two German exchange students, sophomore Sebastian Hommen and senior Tobias Boddker.
"The addition of the two German visiting students takes this from being a nice team to a strong team," Coleman said.
Senior Jason Mazur, a No. 5 singles player in his fourth season, is Coleman's strongest doubles player.
Winners of eight of the last 10 county championships, Centennial once again is expected to be among the best on the court.
However, Eagles coach Bill Shook said he doesn't expect another season like last year, in which Centennial breezed through the regular season 14-0 and went on to win the county tournament.
"We graduated five senior boys and two senior girls, but our biggest loss was two of our top girls players not returning this season," Shook said.
One of the girls the Eagles didn't expect to lose was last year's No. 1 player, Natalie Rich. The senior All-Metro soccer star, already with a scholarship to play at Maryland next fall, decided to concentrate on soccer this spring.
Centennial also will be without Melissa Esposito, last year's No. 3 girls player who moved to San Diego with her parents.
Last year, Esposito teamed with junior Becky Kanouse to reach the state doubles finals before losing to Walt Whitman's Liz Henkins and Laura Martin. Kanouse moves into the No. 1 spot this spring and her younger sister Stephanie will join her as a doubles partner.
For Centennial's boys, junior Khan Pathan occupies the No. 1 spot and is followed by freshman Brian Ruppert and senior Dave Allocco. A mix of lacrosse and baseball players will round out the remaining four spots. Juniors Quang Hoang and Chong Choe form Centennial's top doubles team.
Besides the Kanouse sisters, the Eagles' girls team will rely on junior Susan Green, sophomore Michelle Brown, freshman Julia Dougherty and sophomore Shelley Gerhard.
Glenelg second-year coach Jean Vanderpool expects a season similar to last year's 7-7 record. The Gladiators have a strong contingent of returning girls.
"My top six girls are back and the only thing that's hurt them is having very limited time or space to practice," Vanderpool said.
Junior Tracy Brown, the No. 1 singles player, has been fortunate to play in several area tournaments in the last six months and should be sharp, Vanderpool said. Brown is joined by senior Marguerte Myers, junior Beth Brittle, sophomore Allie Spencer, junior Michelle Farley and sophomore Andrea Bedingfield as returning starters. Junior Molly Hood, the No. 7 player, is the new kid on the court.
Four boys return for the Gladiators, including No. 1 player Dan Gaertner. He is joined by fellow seniors Kevin Horowitz and Scott Cline (No. 4) and junior Jerry Pollack (No. 6).
"I'm counting on the boys athleticism to get us through a few matches," Vanderpool said, noting six of her boys were members of the Gladiators' Class 2A state co-champion soccer team.
F: Brittle and Farley make up the top girls doubles team.
Glenelg Country School
Rookie coach Claire Walker takes over Glenelg Country's second-year tennis program that will benefit from seven returning players.
"I'll be happy if they're competitive," Walker said. "They really are an enthusiastic bunch, but they need to work on their overall skills."
Unlike Howard County's public schools tennis matches, which is a best of nine set-up, Walker's squad plays just five matches -- three singles and two doubles events.
Sophomore Nate Mack battled his way to the boys No. 1 singles spot with senior Josh Peklo, junior Brendon Curran and sophomore Zaid Ashai rounding out the roster. Peklo and Ashai combine for Glenelg Country's top doubles team.
Junior Anne Dawson is the best girls player, Walker said, and the second-best player on the team.
Hammond Golden Bears
Hammond coach Rich Corkran is expecting to challenge Centennial and Atholton to be among the county's best after finishing last year with an 8-6 record in the regular season and a third-place finish in the county tournament.
"I don't know if anybody can beat Centennial because they are so deep and have a strong tennis tradition," Corkran said. "But we will contend with Atholton."
His reason is a strong girls squad led by junior Keely Alexander, 9-1 in the county a year ago at No. 1 singles and the runner-up in the district finals before a bone chip in her foot sidelined her for the state tournament.
"She's just a real solid player who doesn't make many unforced errors," Corkran said.
Juniors Julie Greer and Liz Bielfeld will battle for the No. 2 and No. 3 singles positions while also teaming up to rate as one of the county's top doubles teams. Junior Karen Fink will be half of Hammond's No. 1 mixed doubles team.
While the Golden Bears' girls are relatively deep and experienced, Corkran wasn't so fortunate with the boys. Seven players graduated and Corkran is relying heavily on Swedish exchange student Martin Sjoberg, a senior, to challenge for No. 1 singles.
After two consecutive 6-8 seasons, Howard coach Craig O'Connell would like to reach a .500 or better record but thinks another 6-8 mark is more likely.
"Our strength last season was the boys and it will be again this spring," O'Connell said. "Last year, we lost several matches 5-4 with the boys side of the ladder winning everything while getting very little from the girls."
O'Connell said the girls bracket should improve with the arrival of freshman Christina Khapelsky, who already has asserted herself as the Lions' No. 1 singles player.
Filling out the top of the girls ladder is junior Caroline Walls, sophomore Styphanie Maison, junior Sharon Katkow and Christina's older sister, junior Donna Khapelsky.
The Lions boys ladder begins with junior Chuck Krotraba holding the No. 1 singles spot with senior Sandy Fine, sophomore Chris Dodson, senior Eric Polgar and sophomore Sam Booker battling for the other four slots.
Mount Hebron Vikings
To take the Vikings' program from below .500 to a highly competitive level, first-year coach Cliff Bernstein has been studying Centennial's successful system.
"Like Centennial, we instituted a no-cut policy this year, so that means I've got 50 kids on my roster that I will try to develop," Bernstein said.
Junior Dorian Korz, who has battled cancer, is the boys No. 1 singles player. Bernstein said the junior will serve as the ideal role model for his younger players.
"Korz has a great attitude to go along with excellent tennis skills," said Bernstein.
Korz, however, could be challenged for the No. 1 spot by sophomore David Mitchell, who Bernstein believes has a "real bright future."
Junior Jason Smith, showing steady improvement, is the No. 3 singles player, followed by sophomore Rafael Gruenbaum and juniors Mickey Chawkla, Sunny Kumar and David Wisinewski.
Atop the girls ladder is sophomore Jullian Downs, who Bernstein is counting on for leadership. Downs is followed by freshman Nicula Liskovec, juniors Mollie DiGiorgio and Emily Yanero and senior Sandra Benson.
Oakland Mills Scorpions
With so much inexperience, Oakland Mills' first-year coach Levan Hutchison has divided the season in two.
"The first half of the season we'll spend working hard on the tennis fundamentals so that in the second half we may be competitive," he said.
Wilde Lake Wildecats Rick Wilson moves over from coaching the Wildecats' lacrosse team the last four years to the hard courts, where he plans to rebuild the tennis team with youth.
"This is an investment year," Wilson said. "I'm not looking for miracles. I'm looking for us to mature and to get better with each match. That will be our victory."
A lack of players already is hurting the Wildecats, who are unable to fill out an entire ladder and will have to forfeit at least one match to each opponent.
The Wildecats may look forward to the development of the Engel twins, sophomores Jason and Andrew. Jason will open the season as the Wildecats No. 1 singles player for the boys with Andrew breathing down his neck at No. 2.
Senior Tracy Stefan, a state finalist last year, will compete for top honors in the county and state again this season.
Stefan played her best tennis at the end of last spring, finishing third in the county tournament to earn her a tournament spot as an alternate. When Hammond's Keely Alexander had to drop out of the state competition with a bone chip in her foot, Stefan stepped in and made the most of her opportunity. Pulling off the tournament's biggest surprise, she advanced all the way to the Class 2A-1A finals before losing to Middletown's Bresha Byrd.
Sophomore Jen Ridgely is the Wildecats' No. 2 girls singles player.