Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Whitman tennis to fight off challengers

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Many of the big names associated with boys tennis I he public-school ranks the last four years are gone in 2008: three-time state champion and former Churchill No. 1 Jared Pinsky (now at Duke), former Whitman No. 1 and 2007 county champion Dan Stahl (now at Notre Dame), and former Wootton No. 1 Roshan Potarazu (now at Maryland) all graduated last year. But Montgomery County is rich in tennis talent — the county’s Region II accounted for three of five possible titles at last year’s state tournament — and there are a new crop of gifted players ready to step into more prominent roles and cultivate new rivalries.

Whitman (12-0 record in 2007) won its second county Division I title in three years in 2007 and became the first team other than Churchill or Wootton to win the county tournament in at least 15 years. The Vikings graduated two of their top four players but still return a solid nucleus capable of retaining both titles. But there are a number of teams, including Churchill, Wootton, Blair, Northwest and Bethesda-Chevy Chase, keen on making sure that doesn’t happen.

‘‘The goal is to maintain our streak,” six-year Whitman coach Jasen Gohn said. ‘‘That way the seniors can look back and be like, ‘We were the ones who helped start that.’ But it’s going to be hard. Last year we were the hunter and now we’re going to be the hunted. It’s harder to be in front. It’s hard to maintain.”

Whitman will certainly miss Stahl at the top of their lineup, but junior Timmy Klanke, who went 11-0 en route to his second consecutive No. 2 county singles title last year, will be a strong No. 1 and contend for the county title. He’s currently ranked No. 109 of 2,082 nationally in the United States Tennis Association’s Boys 16s. Seniors Kirby Mayo, last year’s No. 4 singles county champion, and Ian Epperson, and sophomore Pablo Gottret, ranked 57 of 252 in the USTA Mid-Atlantic Section Boys 16s, will round out the singles lineup.

Perennial power Churchill, which placed second at counties a year ago, took some big blows to its lineup, losing its top two players, Pinsky and Andrew Marcus, the No. 2 singles county runner-up the last two years. Junior Felix Sun, who’s relentless ground game won him the No. 3 singles county title the last two years and is ranked No. 1 in the USTA Mid-Atlantic Boys 16s and No. 74 nationally, will step into the No. 1 spot.

He’ll be supported by a talented cast of players capable of keeping Churchill in contention for Division I and county titles, including junior Eric Harris, part of last year’s winning No. 2 doubles pair, senior Brian Roberts and freshman Kevin Chu, ranked No. 106 of 1,769 in the USTA Boys 14s national rankings.

‘‘Every year somebody leaves, it’s the nature of high school sports,” Churchill coach Ben Woods said. ‘‘Jared Pinsky and Andrew Marcus were huge players in our program but there are a bunch of kids now looking for the opportunity to step in and take over. This is a good opportunity for people that have been on the team the last couple years to prove their strength.”

Wootton only returns two of its top 10 players. Despite their youth — many of the Patriots’ starters will be freshmen — the Patriots look to be deeper and stronger than they have the past four years. They’ll be led by freshmen Nos. 1 and 2, Anthony Kourigan and Eiichiro Okuyama and junior No. 3 Marcos Mayo. Freshman Austin Miller and junior Julius Vasquez are battling it out for No. 4 singles. Returning senior and doubles specialist Jason Luo, who reached last year’s No. 1 county doubles final, will be an important part of Wootton’s doubles lineup.

‘‘There have been a lot of successful sports teams at Wootton the last couple years,” first-year Wootton coach Nia Cresham said. ‘‘I want the boys to be a part of it. I think we have a lot of new talent. I like what I see.”

B-CC will rely heavily on its top three players, senior Nos. 1 and 2, Arman Moussavi and Natty Sergay, and junior Kan Onuchi, who are all returning starters. The Barons are hoping that some stronger doubles performances will help them finish in the top half of Division I and top five at counties.

Blair lost five of its top 10, including its top three singles players. Last year’s No. 4 singles finalist at counties, senior Michael Hsu, will jump to No. 1. Seniors Dukyoung Park and Charles Kong, will move up from No. 1 doubles into singles. It’s been more than 15 years since Blair dropped down to Division II and the Blazers are looking to prove they’re still worthy of Division I status.

Quince Orchard is out to prove last year’s drop to Division II was a fluke. The Cougars won the division to move back among the county’s elite and intend to stay there. They’re led by senior No. 1 Alex Chang, freshman No. 2 Aaron Paul and senior No. 3 A.J. Szymczak.

Senior Chris Goodwin, who reached the state and county finals in 2006 and is a favorite to win this year’s No. 1 singles county title, leads a strong Rockville squad looking to win Division II this season. The Rams finished last year 5-7 and in the middle of the pack in their division but improved depth could be the difference in 2008. Michael Aldemyer and Ben Bloom round out the top three.

‘‘We lost a lot of matches by one or two and it came down to doubles,” five-year Rockville coach Frank Weaver said. ‘‘But our doubles has improved tremendously. You can tell these kids went out and worked over the summer. And Chris is just amazing. He’s ready this year, more focused. He’s in rare form and the other kids are feeding off him.”

This year is going to be a trying year for Sherwood, which dropped down to Division II for 2008. The Warriors lost nine of last year’s starters, including four-year No. 1 singles player Jordan Keen. They’ll rely on strong performances from seniors Aaron Gallup, Will Cheung and Henry Bataller, and junior Will Bataller.

Springbrook moves into Division II this year after winning last year’s Division III title. With eight players returning, including junior No. 1 singles Peter Hawkins, ranked No. 104 in the Mid-Atlantic Boys 16s, senior No. 2 Jonathan Nwosu, junior No. 3 Richie Steinwand and sophomore No. 4 Landry Horimbere.

Damascus, led by junior Nos. 1 and 2 Adam Lauer and Scott Benjamin, Paint Branch, anchored by juniors Adam Goldberger and Chris Yeh and Poolesville, powered by junior No. 1 Sharat Buddaparavu and senior Stephen Dessel, are all looking to build on last year’s progress.

‘‘There isn’t that one dominant player in the county this year,” Paint Branch coach Judy Rothstein said. ‘‘I think it will be more interesting.”

Players to watch

Alex Chang (Quince Orchard, Sr.), (Michael Hsu (Blair, Sr.), Adam Goldberger (Paint Branch, Jr.), Chris Goodwin (Rockville, Sr.), Timmy Klanke (Whitman, Jr.), Anthony Kourigan (Wootton, Fr.), Adam Lauer (Damascus, Jr.), Matt Lichtenstein (Northwest, Sr.), Arman Moussavi (B-CC, Sr.), Cliff Reynolds (Clarksburg, Sr.), Neil Soni (Northwest, Sr.), Felix Sun (Churchill, Jr.).