The nerve of Karen Prangley.
At this year's Centennial Invitational -- some call it the Howard County tennis tournament -- Prangley stole a little thunder from the Eagles. She not only won the girls singles title, but did so without losing a game.
But things returned to normal as Centennial won the next four titles. The Eagles finished with 50 points to earn their sixth consecutive Tournament Cup trophy and 10th in the past 12 years. It was the second straight year, and third out of four, that Centennial won four of the five titles.
Centennial's domination this season is reflected on the All-County team. The Eagles have seven players on the 10-member squad, including: seniors Brian Ruppert, Brian Higgins, Neil Adler and Julia Dougherty, juniors Matt Ruppert and Courtney Martin and sophomore Katie Dougherty.
Joining the Centennial contingent are Prangley, Howard junior John Rockwell and Wilde Lake sophomore Lauryn Taubman. Centennial first-year coach Daryl Blickenstaff is Coach of the Year.
Brian Ruppert, the Eagles' No. 1 player the past four years, and Prangley, who is ranked fourth in the mid-Atlantic in the 16-under group, are co-Players of the Year.
Brian Ruppert, who will attend St. John's University on a tennis scholarship, lived up to his No. 1 singles seed in the county and region tournaments. He continued that pattern at the state tournament, where he was seeded third and finished third.
"Brian reached his potential this year," Blickenstaff said. "He played great, and was very consistent all season."
Brian, whose strong serve put opponents on the defense from the start, defeated Rockwell in both the county and region finals this year. He reached the state tournament three of four years, including as a freshman when he was a finalist in mixed doubles.
Prangley, who will spend five of the next 10 weeks traveling to tournaments, including one in San Diego, was one point away from the state singles title this season. Meghan Cornwall of Annapolis staved off a match point before rallying for a 5-7, 7-6 (7-4), 6-3 victory.
Prangley gave all the credit to Cornwall, who won her third straight singles title.
"I feel she won it," said Prangley, who won the county title over Taubman. "In that second set, she finally clicked. In the third set, she was just on.
"I think I played very well. I tried my best. That's all I can do."
Prangley, who will take a 12th-grade English course next year at her new school, River Hill, and graduate a year early, has only one goal next season and that is to win the state title. She and her brother, Josh, won the state mixed doubles title last year.
Adler, who has maintained a 4.0 grade-point average throughout high school and will attend Syracuse, and Matt Ruppert reached the county and regional doubles final the past three years.
This year, they won their first title by defeating Atholton's Adam Abramson and Jason Green, 6-1, 6-1, in the county tournament. They lost in the first round of the states.
Julia and Katie Dougherty, who finished third in last year's state tournament, earned county and region titles then won the county's only state title with a 6-3, 4-6, 6-2 decision over defending state champions Lindsay Carlson and Neely Harris of Arundel. Katie credited their success to her University of Connecticut-bound sister.
"If Julia hadn't played the way she played, we wouldn't have won," Katie said. "She played great."
Higgins, headed to the University of Maryland, and Martin were very successful considering they played together only once in the regular season. The twosome won county and region titles, and, as an unseeded entry, beat the fourth and second seeded teams to finish third in the state.
Higgins, Centennial's No. 2 player, won county and region doubles titles in 1994 and '95 with Brett Bunch.
Blickenstaff, a science teacher at Burleigh Manor Middle School, said the season "was a learning experience for me. With the talent we had, I felt my responsibility was helping each player reach their potential. That was my biggest challenge."
Blickenstaff will have another challenge next year, as six of his top seven boys and three of his top seven girls have graduated. Matt Ruppert, who played all but one doubles match this season, most likely will move from his No. 3 spot this year to No. 1 next season and play singles.
Katie Dougherty, who is ranked sixth in the mid-Atlantic 16-and-under group, is not sure she will plan for Centennial next season.
"It's 50-50 right now," said Dougherty, who added that she would instead concentrate on her tournament schedule.
Rockwell, who finished second in the county singles final the past two seasons, said his only disappointment this year was not beating Brian Ruppert.
Taubman, who lost in the region semifinals, has a realistic goal next year. Knowing Prangley will be very difficult to beat, Taubman said she simply wants to "get a bunch of games off of her."
Pub Date: 6/09/96