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All-Carroll County

BOYS PLAYER OF THE YEAR

David Jackson

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Liberty

Born into a military family, David Jackson and his sister Debbie have spent the majority of their lives moving from place to place. This season, however, the Florida natives both found a home on the Liberty tennis courts.

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After moving from Germany before this school year, the Jacksons gave coach Bruce Damasio an unexpected gift, dominating most of their regular-season competition and winning county titles.

David Jackson, in particular, was a dominant force for the Lions. The senior, who will continue his career next season at UMBC, used his strong baseline play, dominating net skills and powerful serve to finish 22-4. He didn't lose a single game in breezing to a county singles title. From there, he advanced to the regional final - where cramping contributed to a rare loss - then made it to the second round of the state tournament before falling to Centennial's Ryan Lissner, who went on to finish as the state runner-up.

Damasio compares Jackson favorably to another former Liberty standout, three-time county champion Doug Ferguson. "He's every bit as good as Doug Ferguson, if not better," said Damasio.

GIRLS PLAYER OF THE YEAR

Debbie Jackson

Liberty

With teammate Amanda DuBay unable to play at the beginning of this season because of a shoulder injury, Jackson, a sophomore transfer from Germany, stepped to the forefront in girls singles and didn't disappoint.

After spending several years hitting with older brother David and her father, who is a tennis coach, Jackson dominated in her first season for the Lions, finishing 20-3. She didn't lose a set in rolling to a title at the county tournament, defeating Westminster's Sam Ches, 6-3, 7-5, in the final.

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Tall and strong, Jackson featured an array of powerful forehand and backhand shots, as well as one of the best serves in the county. All three of her losses came at the hands of Thomas Johnson's Tanya Gulnick, including in the regional semifinals. Liberty coach Bruce Damasio sees great things ahead for Jackson, who has two more years to grow and develop her skills.

COACH OF THE YEAR

Bruce Damasio

Liberty

In 1980, Bruce Damasio was among the first group of teachers to work at the newly opened Liberty High School. Twenty-four years later, the school's last original coach continues to churn out winners on the tennis court.

This spring, both his boys and girls teams finished unbeaten in Carroll County, with the boys winning at least a share of their second straight county title and the girls taking their first since 1998. His teams were a combined 30-6 this season, including a 17-1 mark for the girls, and have gone a combined 124-54 since 2000.

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"I think there's very few secrets in coaching," said Damasio. "There's no secret plan, magic plan or special words that I have that is much different than anyone else. There's some great coaches out there that don't have good talent."

Damasio admittedly was fortunate before this school year when siblings David and Debbie Jackson transferred into Liberty from Germany, and another top player, JoJo Schmarje, came to the school as a German exchange student. Each wound up with a county title.

"Sometimes things just fall out of the sky and into your lap," Damasio said.

Through the years, Damasio has mentored numerous other county tennis coaches, including Fran McCullin (Westminster), Mike Klingenburg (North Carroll) and Jim Carnes (South Carroll). This year, on crutches because of a knee injury, he was forced to rely more than ever on the help of ninth-year assistant Tim Brecker. Still, he said he couldn't have found much more enjoyment in yet another season in the sun.

THE TEAM

Ashley Groft and Katie Seibel

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Westminster

Many times, coaches will pair up talented singles players in an attempt to create a top doubles team for the postseason. For Groft and Seibel, no such shuffling was necessary this season.

Together since the early days of practice, the two seniors shook off a loss in their first match of the season to reel off 22 straight wins. Along the way, they cruised to Carroll County and Region I championships, earning a No. 4 seed in the state tournament in College Park. There, they easily won in the first two rounds over teams from Glenelg and Cambridge-South Dorchester before falling to top-seeded Tiffany Hodges and Debbie Lin of Walter Johnson, 6-0, 6-3, in the state semifinals.

Both Seibel and Groft spent last season successfully teaming with other partners, only to prematurely be knocked out of the county tournament. What made them so successful this season, according to Owls coach Fran McCullin, was their complementary styles.

Seibel's hard serves often set up Groft at the net. Conversely, Groft's strong returns set up the 6-foot Seibel for overheads. They often dominated opponents by both playing up at the net at the same time, as opposed to many teams that keep a player back. It all added up to a 22-3 record and a first-team selection in the Monocacy Valley Athletic League. Seibel, also an All-County volleyball player, plans to attend Radford in the fall, while Groft will attend Duquesne.

Travis Leyhe and Greg Mastelerz

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Francis Scott Key

After teaming up off and on all season, Leyhe and Mastelerz made history in mid-May by giving Francis Scott Key its first Carroll County doubles championship, defeating Liberty's Chad Arnold and Andrew Rowdon, 6-4, 5-7, 6-2.

Mastelerz went 11-6 this season as the Eagles' No. 1 singles player, and Leyhe finished 13-3 in the No. 2 slot. Looking ahead to the postseason, however, the two decided they'd have a better chance to advance into the regional tournament if they joined forces. Already boasting some of the county's strongest groundstrokes, the senior duo spent countless hours working to improve their net game, as well as the speed on their second serves.

"They made big improvements from a couple weeks before the end of the season through the states," said Derrik Hess, Key's 10th-year coach.

After teaming up occasionally during the season, the two entered the county tournament as the No. 2 seed and didn't disappoint, winning their first two matches to advance to the final, in which they prevailed in three sets.

"They told me their goal was to get to the regional tournament," said Hess. "They knew that if they played their best, they could at least take runner-up in the county tournament."

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In the regional tournament, they defeated the top-seeded team from North Hagerstown in the second round before falling in the final. Their run ended in the opening round of the state tournament, in which they lost to a team from Walter Johnson that later advanced to the final. Leyhe and Mastelerz wound up 7-3 as a doubles team.

JoJo Schmarje and Amanda DuBay

Liberty

This mixed doubles duo may not have been together for long, but they certainly left their mark on Carroll County.

Schmarje, a 16-year-old exchange student from Hamburg, Germany, came to Liberty and quickly established himself as one of the top two boys singles players in the county. Also a soccer player, Schmarje displayed deceptive quickness that he used to methodically dissect opponents en route to an 18-0 record in No. 2 singles. Hoping to send both players to the state tournament, however, Liberty coach Bruce Damasio considered the idea of moving him to doubles.

Meanwhile, DuBay, a senior who had advanced to the county girls singles finals each of the past two years, returned from a shoulder injury - first sustained in recreation league basketball - late in the season to find the team's girls singles in good hands. For the benefit of the team, she opted to partner with Schmarje for the postseason.

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"It seemed the logical thing to do," said Damasio. "We had a team strong enough to get to states."

Together, they tore through the county tournament field, never losing a set and advancing to the final, in which they defeated Century's Whitney Hines and Mike March, 6-2, 6-1, to claim the title.

"That's like a storybook thing," said Damasio. "That's a great way to go out as a senior." They then went on to win a regional crown before finally falling in the state quarterfinals to a team from La Plata. Though Schmarje took a senior schedule this year at Liberty, he will return to Germany next school year, where he technically will be a junior.


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