Howard's Sam Booker beat Mount Hebron's David Mitchel, 7-5, 6-0, yesterday in the boys final of the Howard County tennis championships, but that is not what amazed Vikings coach Cliff Bernstein. It was the way Booker did it.
"I couldn't believe how good Booker played. He had an answer for everything," Bernstein said at the Wilde Lake Tennis Club.
For much of the first set and all of the second, Booker, the No. 4 seed, unveiled an impressive arsenal of backhands, forehands, passing shots and spinning drop shots that frustrated top-seeded Mitchel, who had beaten Booker, 9-7, earlier this season.
The Booker-Mitchel duel and Centennial's Becky Knouse's 6-1, 6-1 rout of Wilde Lake's Tracy Stephan in the girls final highlighted
the final round of the three-day event, won by Centennial with 51 points.
The Eagles topped Mount Hebron (46), Howard (44), Wilde Lake (33), Glenelg (28), Atholton (25), Hammond (23) and Oakland Mills (0).
Centennial, which captured its fifth consecutive regular-season title and ninth in 11 years, breezed past Atholton last season in a tournament field that was primarily the Eagles against everyone else. Now, programs such as Mount Hebron, fifth-place finishers last year, are challenging for county supremacy.
"For three or four years, [schools] were getting emergency coaches, any coaches they could find," Centennial coach Bill Shook said. "Now, they're getting more qualified coaches, which will be better for the kids in
the long run."
Bernstein took over a sub-.500 team and turned it into a winner.
He said: "Finishing second here and second in the county, it sets the tone for something to build upon. The kids have momentum that we'll parlay into next season."
The singles titles were the only ones decided yesterday. Friday in doubles finals, Centennial's No. 1 seeds Dave Allocco and Brett Bunch beat unseeded teammates Quang Hoang and Chong Choe, 3-6, 6-2, 6-0; No. 4 Centennial seeds Susan Green and Michelle Brown eased past No. 1 Atholton seeds Pam Yep and Nicole Auclair, 6-1, 6-1; and No. 4 Glenelg seeds Scott Cline and Marguerite Myers topped Mount Hebron's unseeded Jason Smith and Jullian Downs, 7-6 (7-2), 2-6, 6-2.
The top three from each category advance to the district tournament next weekend.
"I knew I was going to win," Booker said.
That wasn't clear in the first set, though, when in a ninth game that reached deuce nine times, Mitchel held serve for a 5-4 lead. But Booker, using crafty placements and seeing Mitchel make crucial unforced errors, won the next three games to take the set.
After breaking serve in the next game, Booker, a sophomore, breezed to claim a 6-0 record in tournament sets.
"I played one great set of tennis, he played two," said Mitchel, a sophomore. "[Booker's] second set was just an impressive display."
Stephan, a senior, broke Knouse's serve in each set's first game. But Knouse, a junior, used consistent ground strokes and a patient baseline strategy to win every other game.
"I've been doubles champion, so it's nice to be singles champion for once," Knouse said.