MCPS girls tennis: Can anyone beat Bulldogs?

Blair looking to pull off some surprises

Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2005

Churchill has been at the top of the high-school girls tennis scene in the county for the past three years. And this season is no different. Entering the Montgomery County Public Schools tournament, set to begin Tuesday at a variety of sites throughout the county, the three-time defending MCPS Division I and two-time defending county champion Bulldogs are favored to make it a third straight. But a much-improved, competitive, field is looming ahead, looking to knock Churchill off its perch.

Churchill (9-1) will have No. 1 singles player and defending county champion Maggie MacKeever leading the way. Using her solid all-around game, MacKeever has yet to lose a set this season. And she enters the tournament only having lost two sets in two years, both in a loss to Quince Orchard’s Alice Chen, the only player in the state to beat MacKeever in two years, at the 2004 Region II tournament. Catherine Lien, Leah Taub and Stephanie Manbir, have all done well in their respective positions – Nos. 2, 3 and 4 singles for the Bulldogs. Doubles has been a weak point for Churchill, but as the season comes to a close, teammates seem to be playing with more confidence in anticipation of the postseason.

‘‘I’m excited for doubles,” Churchill coach Ben Woods said. ‘‘The doubles teams are starting to gel. I’m excited for them to get a chance to see their hard work [pay off]. All that running, all those drills. They’ll finally have an opportunity to put that to use.”

Walter Johnson is currently tied with Churchill for the top spot in the division – the teams’ match scheduled for Friday was cancelled due to rain and will be played Wednesday afternoon in Potomac. And the Wildcats will likely be the biggest threat to the Bulldogs at the county tournament. Top singles player, sophomore Lauren Wolman, nearly took a set off Chen and boasts an 8-1 record this year. Speedy around the court with strong groundstrokes, Wolman, who won the county title last year at No. 3 singles, will certainly wreak some havoc in the No.1 singles bracket. Wildcats No. 2 singles player, freshman Tiffany Lin is 10-0 leading into the tournament and has the potential to win some big points for Walter Johnson. Senior captain Marci Gallun is 6-2 in the No. 3 singles slot and will be a contender in the draw as will Wildcats ace No. 1 doubles duo of Jocelyn Falk and Maraya Pratt, who have yet to lose a match all season.

Injuries have been an issue for Wootton (8-2) toward the end of the season, but the Patriots seem to have gotten back on track and have proven they’re a force to be reckoned with. Wootton, third in Division I, hopes to use its strong doubles teams to avenge a disappointing loss to Walter Johnson last week and finish in the top two. Lissa Eng and Charlene Wang were 4-0 and up a set against Churchill when Wang tweaked her knee and was forced to sit out several weeks. But it seems she’s ready to get back onto the court and pick up where she left off. Samantha Weiss, who has switched back and forth between No. 4 singles and No. 2 doubles, will team with Lindsay Black in the second doubles slot. The two meshed well together to start the season 4-0 and are looking to make their way to the county final.

Blair has also struggled with injuries, causing the Blazers to adjust their lineup. The changes may affect Blair in the tournament, but coach David Ngbea still believes his squad, led by No. 1 Stephanie Paul (8-2), has the potential to finish in the top three. Whitman and Quince Orchard have both had off years, but each has players capable of making some noise next week. Chen, last year’s Region II champion and a finalist at the county and state tournament, has perhaps the best chance of knocking MacKeever off the pedestal she’s been on these past two years. After moving up from Division II, Richard Montgomery has proved it’s capable of competing with the county’s elite. The Rockets are 6-3 overall and 2-3 in the division, and have the ability to win some points.

In addition, there are several non-Division I teams that should not be overlooked. Magruder (9-1) has stormed through the county’s Division II this season and the Colonels are looking to cap off a successful season with a solid finish at the county tournament. Moriah Burke is 10-0 at No. 2 singles, including wins over some Division I opponents, and No. 3 Gabi Tirado has lost just one match.

Blake (8-2) cruised to a title in Division III this season and possesses some of the talent of a Division I team, with three of its top four singles players ranked in the United States Tennis Association Mid-Atlantic section. Sophomore No. 1 singles player Carmen Jackman (9-0), fresh off a straight-set win over Chen Monday, has made winning seem effortless this season and could prove to be MacKeever’s biggest obstacle. Sarah Monsheimer (10-0) has been dominant in the second singles slot for the Bengals, recording wins over opponents from Division I and II. No. 3 singles player Anjalee Martin has lost only one match this season, to Burke. With the ability this trio has to advance far into their respective brackets, Blake has the potential to be a serious threat among the top teams.

The county tournament is unique in that it’s the first time all the teams from every division will be combined in one draw. Players will face opponents for the first time, making results unpredictable. And the depth of field this year will only enhance that unpredictability.

WCAC: Is it time for Tartans?

The Holy Cross tennis team had a good season last year, finishing 9-2. But the Tartans placed second in the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference regular-season standings and in the postseason tournament, just behind powerhouse Paul VI.

This year, Holy Cross has already nabbed two wins over Paul VI in dual-match play and is looking for a third at the season-ending tournament set to begin Tuesday. If the Tartans are going to achieve that goal, they’ll also have to surpass neighborhood-rival Good Counsel, keen on improving its status in the WCAC, in the process.

Leading the way for Holy Cross is the sister act of freshman Maria and senior Angela Fuccillo at Nos. 1 and 2. Both have compiled undefeated records with Maria at 7-0 in the top position and Angela 8-0 at second singles. The two also pair up to form the Tartans’ unbeatable No. 1 doubles team. Senior Courtney Radcliff rounds out the top three, and has been a dominant 11-0 for Holy Cross (11-0 record) in the No. 3 singles position and will likely help the team win some big points at the tournament as well.

‘‘The biggest thing is that we’re deep,” Holy Cross first-year coach Ali Yagci said. ‘‘We’re strong all the way down the line. We have the sisters and they’re very good up top, but besides them, the whole team down the line is strong. Other teams in the conference have a few really good players, and then the rest is sort of average. I think that’s why we’ve been so successful.”

Good Counsel made a coaching switch mid-season — Lee Ingham took over for former coach Wayne Randolph a month ago — but the Falcons’ goals have not changed. They finished fifth in 2004 and at 8-4 this season, enter the tournament three wins ahead of where they were last year.

‘‘When I started working with the team I asked the girls what their goals were,” Ingham said. ‘‘They were focused on getting to the championship and doing better than they’ve done before. They want to win some upsets. But that was their main focus, the championships.”

Good Counsel is led by sophomore Sarah VanWinter, who has compiled a 7-4 record at No. 1 singles this season. Junior Claire Wheeler boasts a 9-2 record at No. 2 singles and Franchesca Brown (9-3) and Elyse Gillen (9-3) round out the top four. Good Counsel has made strides since last season, and it will be important for the Falcons to use what they’ve learned next week. It’s easy to go for too much in pressure situations. Therefore, Ingham has stressed the importance of stability and of sticking to the basics.

‘‘Our main focus is consistency,” she said. ‘‘We want to focus on every shot having an intention. I want the girls to make sure they know what they want to do with each and every shot. That’s when things break down, when you have to get that one shot back. I just as that they be purposeful.”

In order to pull off the upsets Good Counsel is looking for, the Falcons will also have to make sure they keep their games tight, minimizing their unforced errors and eliminating unnecessary mistakes, such as double faulting, on crucial points.

‘‘These are great girls and they’re willing to do anything and everything for the team,” Ingham said. ‘‘I’m looking forward to the championships and seeing how they can do.”

For Holy Cross, this might be its best chance to take the title. Next season, though the younger Fuccillo will return, along with freshman No. 5 player Sam Hopkins, the Tartans will lose six players from their lineup.