COACH OF THE YEAR
* Linda Blakeslee, Centennial -- When a new coach takes over a program that has been a dynasty, everyone expects to see at least a slight dip in performance.
That didn't happen with the Centennial tennis team, which won all 14 regular-season matches to stretch its winning streak to 37 matches.
The team won its ninth regular-season title in 12 years, and won its ninth county tournament cup in 11 years by a tournament-record 74 points. The old mark was 65 set by Centennial the year before.
Centennial also won the regional tournament and sent eight players to the state tournament.
For Blakeslee, the chairman of the social studies department at Centennial who replaced coaching legend Bill Shook, the season was one she won't forget.
"It was immensely enjoyable and I learned a lot," she said. "I loved working with the kids."
But it was also an experience that she has decided not to repeat. She's ending her undefeated coaching career after one season. "It was too time-consuming so I'm not coming back as coach next season," she said.
PLAYERS OF THE YEAR
* Josh and Karen Prangley, Atholton, mixed doubles -- When Josh, a senior, and Karen, a freshman, decided to team up, it was a decision that they never regretted.
The brother-and-sister team won county, regional and state championships, and became the first brother-sister combination to win a state title. They were also Atholton's first state tennis champs.
Josh, the team captain, had been Atholton's No. 1 boys singles player. Karen, ranked No. 2 in Maryland in 14 and under, had played No. 1 girls singles.
They compiled a 10-1 record together and capped their season in the state finals by beating Paint Branch's Megan Scott and Marcus Fyhr, 6-3, 6-1.
All through the counties, districts and states they never lost more than three games in a set.
"They never allowed the other teams to get any life," Atholton coach Greg Dubac said. "It's rare that you get a brother and sister of such equal talent. Josh's game is serve and volley, and he has a strong approach, so he's perfectly suited to doubles. Karen is good at everything."
FIRST TEAM AT A GLANCE
* Stephanie Knouse, Centennial, senior, girls singles -- She extended her unbeaten streak in regular-season county matches 52, and won county and district titles before finishing fourth in the state tournament. She was beaten by Jamie Margolis of Pikesville in the state semifinals, 6-2, 6-1. Knouse had won a state championship in girls doubles as a junior. "She's a super player who was the morale builder on our team," Blakeslee said. Knouse will attend Towson State.
* Michelle Brown, Centennial, senior, girls singles -- She went undefeated in singles during the regular season and then upset Hammond's Keely Alexander in the county tournament after being down a set. A left-hander, she finished in second place in the county and third place in the district. "She was our most persistent player. She won by determination," Blakeslee said.
* Jason Engel, Wilde Lake, senior, boys singles -- He won county and district titles and was the most talked about player at the county tournament. Unseeded, he upset the top three seeds. He rallied to beat top-seeded Brian Ruppert of Centennial, 0-6, 7-5, 6-2, after losing the first 10 games. His effort boosted Wilde Lake to a second-place finish at the county tournament.
* Brian Ruppert, Centennial, junior, boys singles -- He posted a 17-5 record while finishing third in the county and second in the district. Ruppert defeated defending county champion David Mitchel of Mount Hebron twice. "Brian is a hard hitter and immensely talented," said Blakeslee. "He has excellent pace and strength and was much improved."
* Katie and Julia Dougherty, Centennial, girls doubles -- Katie, a freshman, and Julia, a junior, didn't team up until late in the season, and then won county and district titles before finishing third in the state, losing to Lindsay Carlson and Neely Harris of Arundel, 6-4, 6-4. "Katie is a hard hitter and Julia a steady player, and they only played once in doubles during the regular season," Blakeslee said. "I wish they had played more. They lost in a very tough and exciting state semis match."
* Brett Bunch and Brian Higgins, Centennial, boys doubles -- Bunch, a senior, and Higgins, a junior, were two-time county tournament winners that lost in an early round of states to a team that eventually finished second. Bunch and Higgins won a district title and were 6-0 during the regular season. "Brett is a wonderful net player and Brian has a good mental game," Blakeslee said.