Marianne Baker already has earned a tennis scholarship to Maryland next year but is looking to end her high school career with a bang.
The Glenelg senior hasn't lost a match in two years of high school competition and wants to finish her career with a perfect record and a third state title. Baker also wants to help the Gladiators come away with another Howard County tournament - and regular-season - title.
Baker went 21-0 last year en route to the state championship despite missing a few matches to compete in outside tournaments. Her outside schedule is better this year, as she'll have to miss only one match this season, likely against River Hill while competing in the Easter Bowl national tournament in California.
Baker is third in the sectional ranks and 77th nationally among 18-and-under players. She's a complete player who gives opponents nightmares and wants only to win and help Glenelg.
"I keep trying to improve," Baker said. "I just go out there and play. It's what I do best."
Glenelg coach Mary Ellen Doyle said that Baker does everything well on the court, one reason why she's been unbeatable during her team years of varsity play. Baker skipped her freshman year.
"She can do anything," Doyle said. "She has a great forehand, a great backhand ... and has so many tricks in her pocket that it's unbelievable."
Glenelg won the county tournament title for the first time last year after Hammond (14-3) and Oakland Mills (14-2) split the regular-season crown. For the Gladiators, junior Julia Facchina also went undefeated during the regular season and advanced to the states but was in Baker's shadow.
Glenelg, Hammond and Oakland Mills all should battle for the county's regular-season and tournament titles once again this year. Mount Hebron will get help from senior Rohan Nabar (23-1 last year, losing in the state semifinals), who won the county title last year for the second time.
McDonogh, Gilman, Calvert Hall and Loyola all will battle for the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference title this spring.
For McDonogh, the defending champions, coach Laddie Levy has a lineup with lots of depth. The Eagles have won 12 A Conference titles in the last 16 years with a brilliant 170-7 record during that time.
They'll have a tough time in the top singles matches with Calvert Hall's Gary Simonette and Jon Malooly returning as the conference champions at Nos. 1 and 2, but the Eagles should also be strong in the lower singles and doubles.
Joey Atas would have given the Cardinals an unbeatable 1-2-3 punch, but he again opted not to play for Calvert Hall and concentrate on tournaments.
"We [still] have a great 1-2 punch," Calvert Hall coach Brian Carper said. "Jon would be a No. 1 player for anyone else."
Gilman lost All-City/County singles star Justin Rofel to graduation, but the Greyhounds dropped just one match last year and once again have a number of good players.
Loyola might be the dark horse this year. The Dons were 8-3 last season and return A Conference No. 1 champion Brian Crook. The senior went 10-2 last year - beating Simonette after losing to him earlier - and anchors a solid lineup that includes seniors Andrew Petrik and Brendan Kopf at Nos. 2 and 3 singles.
"We have a very strong top three," Loyola coach Don Kraft said.
Hillen Smith from Boys' Latin also should be one of the conference's top players; he beat Crook once last year and has a 23-8 career record. He'll play No. 1 for the Lakers this year.
Lutheran and St. Mary's should be two of the contenders for the B Conference title. The Saints lost top player Andrew Gaudreau (46-0 in conference play) to graduation and need to replace him.
Anne Arundel County
The county title should run through Severna Park yet again. The Falcons have won it the last three years under coach April Pinder, and despite losing some key players to graduation, Severna Park brings some talent back.
County and state doubles champions Lindsay Suller and Allison Daciek (senior and junior) are back. Junior Jeff Erwetowski returns after missing last year with injury problems.
Broadneck also should be tough after improving to 10-1 last year. The Bruins also took second in the county tournament and bring several good young players to the table.
Younger players will likely be the key in the county as several of the top competitors around graduated last year.
Poly will try to win its eighth straight city crown, and the Engineers have plenty of talent to make a run at it.
Sophomore Luciano Brunetti won the singles title last year for Poly at No. 1, and junior Harold Fowler is another strong player at No. 2. Brunetti and Fowler give the Engineers one of the city's better lineups.
City and Western also could make some noise this spring. Junior Anna Friedman went 12-2 last year and captured the city title with a three-set win over Western's Josette Wiggins - the only player to beat her in the regular season. Friedman finished second the previous year.
Friedman will anchor a city lineup that's stronger on the girls' side and could help the Knights give Poly a run. City finished second last year while Western took third, and all three of these top schools have several players coming back.
Pikesville will use its depth to go after its 35th Baltimore County title in the last 37 years.
Coach Jerry Dresner's team is strong again, and should once more have to battle with Franklin, which tied Pikesville for the county title in 2001. The boys will carry most of the weight for Pikesville as they didn't lose anyone to graduation.
County champions Matt Jacobson and Zach Chafitz - at Nos. 1 and 2 singles - are back. Andrew Kaye and Brian Pollack combined to win a doubles championship last year for the Panthers.
The girls also have some strength and, since the boys and girls compete together for team results, should help Pikesville.
"We [want] an undefeated season and a county championship," Jacobson said. "To win the county championship once again we will have to work hard in practice and improve as the season goes along."
Franklin lost state champion Jake Benzal, an exchange student, after he dominated area tennis last year. He missed the county tournament, but he went on to win the region and state.
However, the girls are what makes Franklin strong - just like the boys should carry Pikesville. Senior Beatrice Grasu will try to get back to the state finals and get past Baker, who's beaten her there for the past two years.
Franklin also gets help from fellow senior Brooke Rogers, giving the Indians two of the area's top singles players in the same lineup.
Graduation claimed most of last season's top players, including three-time county champion Doug Ferguson from Liberty. South Carroll and North Carroll split the boys' title last spring while the Cavaliers took the championship on the girls' side.
North Carroll's Maria Covell is clearly the county's best returning player. The senior is trying to become one of the few in county history to win the singles championship four straight years.
Rob Szymanski of North Carroll and Liberty's Viral Vakil should be two of the county's best on the boys' side.
Francis Scott Key won't be playing anyone from the county this year because of its Monocacy Valley Athletic League commitments. Also, Century and Winters Mill will both be fielding varsity teams.
Century played last year, but this will be Winters Mill's first season. That will likely cause some type of change in the make-up of the county tournament, but that hasn't been decided yet.
C.M. Wright once again appears to be the team to beat. The Mustangs' lineup is loaded once again this spring.
The unbeaten Mustangs won the championship last spring with Bel Air and Fallston being the two schools that could give them the biggest fight. But C.M. Wright has talent from top to bottom, starting with Roger Torres, who won the county and region titles last year as a freshman.
"He's legitimate, and he's a power," Bel Air coach Chris Schall said.
To make C.M. Wright tougher, senior Jonny Ahn is back after skipping two years. He gives the Mustangs a very tough 1-2 punch that could be impossible to beat this season.
Jonny's sister, Jessica, is a freshman who could do what Torres did last year. She's played national tournaments and has talent.
At Bel Air, seniors Tom Kittell and Diana Nguyen will help the Bobcats be tough while Fallston has depth like last year. Joppatowne's Liezl Samios-Uy is the returning county champion who also made it to the state semifinals last year.
The Sun's 2003 Spring Preview was written by staff writers Rick Belz, Katherine Dunn, Glenn P. Graham, Edward Lee, Pat O'Malley, Lem Satterfield and Jeff Zrebiec. Special correspondents Mike Frainie, Rich Scherr, Jeff Seidel and Derek Toney also contributed.
The copy editor was Michael Reeb. The designer was Steve Andrulonis.
Contributing cover photographs were Jed Kirschbaum, Kenneth K. Lam, Monica Lopossay Riesser, John Makely, Gene Sweeney Jr., Barbara Haddock Taylor.