Coach of the Year
Casey Crouse, Mount Hebron: In her third season as coach, Crouse guided the Vikings to their first county title since 1984 and their first Tournament Cup at the county tournament. "The kids on this team are absolutely phenomenal," Crouse said. "They really deserve all the credit. They are very self-motivated." Crouse described her role as "helping them mentally through matches and keep them together as a team." Mount Hebron finished 15-2 to win the regular-season title, losing only to second-place finishers Wilde Lake (14-3) and Centennial (14-3). In the county tournament, Mount Hebron stopped Centennial's seven-year winning streak. The Vikings, behind county champions in boys and girls doubles, finished with with 28 points and beat second-place Wilde Lake by five. "I'm not surprised we did well this season," Crouse said. "I thought we would be one of the top teams, but I didn't expected to sweep everything." The girls ladder came up big for Mount Hebron all season. "The girls provided the strength and consistency," Crouse said. The Vikings graduate only one of their top seven girls' players, and four of their top seven boys' players. Crouse is a math and computer-science teacher.
Girls Player of the Year
Lauryn Taubman, Wilde Lake, senior: "It's been an awesome season, a great way to go out," said Taubman about the year that saw her win county and regional singles titles. Taubman lost only once this season, and that came in the second round of the state tournament against top-seeded Jennifer Hellier. "I played a little too tentative the first set, but I knew I had nothing to lose so I played a little more aggressive in the second set," said Taubman, who lost 6-0, 6-2. Taubman defeated Mount Hebron's Katie Long in the finals of both the county (6-2, 6-1) and Region III (7-6, 6-1) tournaments. Taubman has been the Wildecats' No. 1 girls player for four years. She finished third in the county tournament as a freshman and two years ago was a finalist. Last year, she and Mary Valverde played doubles in the postseason, and won county and region titles and took third in the state. Taubman will major in communications at Syracuse University. She would like to play in Syracuse's marching band and also play tennis, but doesn't know yet how she will work that into her schedule. "I know I'll keep playing tennis, whether it's club or Division I," said Taubman, who finished No. 1 in her class with a 4.0 grade-point average. Despite losing in the second round of the state tournament, Taubman, as usual, remained upbeat. "Finishing in the top eight is good. I'm very happy."
Boys Player of the Year
Justin Benoliel, Glenelg, senior: After winning only two of eight matches to start the season, Benoliel turned things around in the second half and went to win the county singles title over top-seeded Ari Zweig, 7-6 (7-5), 6-4. "I peaked at the right time," said Benoliel. He wasn't overly concerned about losing early in the season. He was coming off a sprained ankle from basketball season and hadn't played tennis for months. "I was worried for the team. I was frustrated that I was losing and not helping the team," Benoliel said. "Personally, I wasn't worried." The more Benoliel practiced and played, the better he became. He finished 6-2 in the second half of the season. Benoliel, who plans to play soccer -- he's a goalkeeper -- at East Carolina, had confidence he could win the county tournament. And that was despite having a forehand he calls "atrocious." Benoliel said his forehand was decent a year ago. But "something happened" early this season that left him with no confidence in his shot. "I could never close out a point with my forehand," Benoliel said. Now, his backhand is "probably the best its ever been. I rarely miss." He is also a three-sport athlete, having played tennis for four years, varsity soccer for three years and varsity basketball for two years. Benoliel, who played three-set matches in quarterfinal and semifinal wins in the county tournament, defaulted to Zweig for third place in the Region III tournament.
Katie Long, Mount Hebron, sophomore: Long finished the regular-season 15-2, losing both times to Lauryn Taubman. She lost to Taubman twice more -- in the finals of the county and Region III tournament -- and to Jennifer Garvey in the first round of the state tournament. Long, who played doubles last year in the postseason, said that even though she lost to Taubman those matches were a good learning experience. "Those matches I lost were some of the best matches I played all year," Long said. Long considers her strengths to be her serve, ability to chase down balls and to hit with power. She said she needs to improve her consistency. "I need to practice as much as I can," Long said. "I need to concentrate on placing the ball a little better."
Ari Zweig, Wilde Lake, sophomore: A year ago Zweig played doubles in the county tournament and exited in the second round. This year Zweig played singles and came close to winning the championship. "It's been a good season," Zweig, said. "It was easier than last year because [John] Rockwell, [Matt] Ruppert and [Matt] Chen graduated. It left some room for other people to step up." And Zweig did just that, finishing the regular season 13-4. At the county tournament, the top-seeded Zweig lost in the championship, 7-6 (7-5), 6-4 to Glenelg's Justin Benoliel. "He stepped up in the tournament," Zweig said of Benoliel. Zweig, who finished third in the regional tournament, split during the season with Benoliel -- winning 8-1 and losing 9-8. Zweig's strengths are his consistency and baseline game. He wants to improve his serve. "I want to develop a more powerful first serve to win some easier games," he said.
Divya and Deepa Chandian, Mount Hebron, juniors: A year ago Deepa, by four minutes the older twin, was fifth on the ladder and Divya was an alternate. This year, Divya was undefeated and Deepa lost only twice during the regular season. They defeated River Hill's Marielle Proia and Devon Humphries for the county championship, 6-4, 6-7 (8-6), 6-4 and in the Region III final, 7-5, 6-4. They lost in the first round of the state tournament. The twins work well together, complimenting each other with different strengths. Deepa has a strong serve but is weak with her backhand, while Divya's strength is her backhand.
John White, junior, Stan Rajakumar, senior, Mount Hebron: nior, Mount Hebron: The twosome won the county boys doubles title, 6-2, 6-3, over River Hill's Chanu Rhee and Zach Heidepriem, lost in the final of the Region III tournament and dropped their first state tournament match. White, who played singles in the county tournament last year, will play singles again next season. Rajakumar will attend UMBC and play intramurals. They finished 2-1 in the regular season, then found their groove in the county tournament. "I was very surprised," said White after beating Rhee and Heidepriem, who were the county runner-ups last year in the county tournament. "Our volleys were totally on and our ground strokes were perfect. We were just very consistent." White said his strengths are is serve and volley and consistency. Rajakumar is strong at the net.
Kristy Stutz, junior, Shomik Das, senior, Atholton: They finished 2-1 in the regular season and, according to both of them, weren't that good. "At the beginning, it was confusing because he likes to play serve-and-volley, and I like to stay back," said Stutz, who will play singles next season. "We weren't very good. We made too many unforced errors." But they committed themselves to preparing hard for the county tournament and, as Das said, "All the hard work paid off." Stutz and Das, both No. 1 on their respective ladders, won the county mixed doubles title, defeating Oakland Mills' Shuchi Saini and Joo Cho, 7-6 (7-2), 6-3, and the region III championship, 7-5, 3-6, 6-2, over Wilde Lake's Kathryn Jaller and Stephen DeVito. They lost in the second round of the state tournament. Das, who will attend Arizona State, said Stutz was the main reason the team did so well. "She played a big role," Das said. "Our success depended a lot on her." Stutz has a solid shot and can place it well, moving opponents around the court. Das' calm demeanor kept the twosome focused in close matches.
The Baltimore Sun 1998 All-Howard County tennis team was selected by the staff after consulting with area coaches.
Pub Date: 6/05/98