Tennis is making a comeback in Baltimore County, according to several high school coaches in the Baltimore area.
"Tennis is back," said McDonogh coach Laddie Levy. "The game is increasing in popularity, especially in urban areas, and the coaching is improved. We're starting to see increased parity in high school tennis, even in our league."
The Eagles play in the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference, undoubtedly the area's best tennis league. McDonogh finished second to Gilman in the league last year, and the Eagles figure to be one of the teams to beat again this year - along with Calvert Hall.
The Cardinals return sophomore Joey Atas, The Sun's City/County Player of the Year last season as a freshman. This year, however, Calvert Hall won't be a one-man show. The No. 2 singles player will be Gary Simonette, another up-and-coming freshman who is ranked by the U.S. Tennis Association in the Mid-Atlantic region. The Cardinals are very young, and if they are to do well, they'll have to find some players for the Nos. 4-7 spots in the lineup. Junior Chris Coombs and sophomores Greg Boone and George Mishraky will have to do well for the team to do well.
McDonogh will again be strong. The Eagles return their top three players - senior Steve Hallock, and juniors Nithan Jayadeva and Amadi Nzu - so the top of the lineup is solid. Levy is excited about the players he has, and says the Eagles will be a contender in the ever-improving A Conference.
Loyola could emerge as a dark horse in the conference this season. The Dons boast sophomore Brian Crook at their top player. Senior Jake Naish and junior Dave Limburg will also probably play singles. The Dons also return their No. 1 doubles team in Matt Kelinger and Josh Bandoch.
Boys' Latin graduated its big guns from last year, and how quickly the young players develop will tell a lot about the Lakers. Sophomore Hillen Smith, one of the better players in the area last season, will lead the lineup. Juniors Henry Blue and Jamil Batcha will be counted on to provide leadership for the young team.
St. Paul's, led by new coach Ed Brown, should also improve. Juniors Anthony Hamod and J. B. Wogan are battling for the top spot.
Park will be rebuilding this year. Juniors John Kolker and Matt Buchman will lead a team that has lost five seniors from last season.
In the MIAA B Conference, Beth Tfiloh returns most of its team from last season, and should be much improved. Freshman Ben Friedman and Josh Sweren, as well as junior Aaron Smolarz, will fight it out for the top spot.
Among Baltimore County public schools, it appears Pikesville and Dulaney will again lead the pack.
The defending county champion, Pikesville will be led by senior Dana Dolvin. The Panthers also return Jeff Craft, who was part of a state semifinals doubles team last year. Coach Jerry Dresner will also have senior Parker Scott, who won the Maryland 16-and-under state title a few seasons ago. Juniors Melissa Grochal and Jen Friedman lead the girls team.
At Dulaney, sophomore Chase Dawson, the Baltimore County boys champion and a state quarterfinalist, returns. Sophomore Romena Gatica and senior Carrie Parker will both play singles to lead the Lions girls players. Dulaney graduated five players from last season, and will have to develop new standouts to do well.
Franklin will have the strongest girls team in the area. The Indians return Beatrice Grasu, the state runner-up in girls singles last season, and Brooke Rogers, who finished fourth in the state in girls singles. Grasu has been hampered by a foot injury, and how fast she recovers will tell a lot about how she does this season. Rogers could play No. 1 singles at any other school in the area, and she may have to assume a leadership role on the team if Grasu is out for an extended period.
Coach Warren White's challenge is to find some boys players to match his girls. Senior David Abarbanel, who was the No. 2 singles player last season, will lead the boys team.
Craig Smith will take over one of the county's better programs at Towson, and he'll benefit from the return of junior Veena Rao, a 1999 All-City/County girls choice. The girls will be the strength of the team, with seniors Alex Samet and Meredith Hass playing important roles. The boys are led by senior Dan Choi and junior Michael Black.
Perry Hall will also have a new coach in Mike Dunn. Senior John Payne and junior Bryan Marcoli will lead a powerful boys team. The Gators lost their No. 1 girl from last year, but still figure to be strong with senior Margot Franklin, and juniors Susan Edmonds and Lun Lim. The Gators are balanced, and they should contend for the county crown.
At Catonsville, the strength of the team will be the girls. Coach Jeff McDaniel says he can go seven deep with this talented group. Senior Danni Packer will play No. 1 singles, with her sister, Sarah, playing the No. 2 spot. Juniors Mike Kenney and Scott Soracone lead the boys.
Randallstown will have to rebound from the loss of All-City/County performer Elizabeth Harvey, and this could be a rebuilding year. Senior Chris Washington will play No. 1 singles.
Loch Raven will try to replace some quality boys players, but the girls team remains relatively strong. Sophomore Marissa Sanchez will be the No. 1 singles player, followed by senior Yewande Fapohunda. Seniors Sam Hahn and Ed Ahn are the only remaining boys starters from last year.
Wade Kearns will take over as coach at Overlea, and he's optimistic. The Falcons return junior Patrick Alban and senior Tim Bauer, one of the area's best doubles teams from last season. Kearns says he has an eager group, but is still struggling to fill a few spots on the girls team.
The entire boys team returns at Hereford, and that's where most of the Bulls' points will come from. Sophomore Jeff Borowitz and junior Adam Fisher will be the top two singles players. Sophomore Kelly Ann Chouinard and senior Erin Dryer are the key girls players.
Susan Harrison will take over as coach at Owings Mills. She will return an experienced group, led by senior Matt Rothstein and sophomore Andrew Cavanaugh on the boys team, and seniors Lauren Sollins and Hanna Vogelstein for the girls.
At Patapsco, the Patriots will feature a strong boys team. Junior Keith Austin, last season's No. 1 singles player, is back. He'll be backed up by senior John Hoy and junior Larry Warble. Junior Michelle Atherton leads the girls.
Woodlawn will be Patapsco's opposite. The Warriors will have a stronger girls team, which will be led by sisters Nasya Jones (junior) and Chira Jones (freshman). Most of the same boys return from last year, and the Warriors should see continued improvement over last season's 3-8 record.
Sparrows Point will be very young this season, and new coach Skip Burnham says he'll concentrate on the basics. The most experienced players will be juniors Stacey Goldsmith and Jamie Goldsmith. Bryan Allen is a promising freshman for the boys.
At Milford Mill, coach Pam Wright will have to start over after the graduation of her top players. Twins Cecilia and Christina Kye as well as Amber Johnson, all sophomores, will form the nucleus of the program.
Western has seen an influx of talent this year that has coach Eric Jett excited. The most experienced player is senior Cesar Landa, the No. 1 boys singles player. The girls will fight it out between sophomore Hansi Uche and junior Danielle Scott for the No. 1 spot.
Carver Tech will field a tennis team for the first time this year with coach Rick Fox. Sophomore Justin Campbell and junior Richard Stein are standouts on the boys side, while senior Allison Simon and freshman Kate Thompson will lead the girls.
Player to watch
(Calvert Hall, freshman)
Must play a significant role if Cards are to unseat Gilman in the MIAA A Conference