It appears C. Milton Wright's two-year reign atop the county tennis world is about to end.
A 7-4 loss to Bel Air on Tuesday dropped the Mustangs (11-2) one match behind the Bobcats, who have only seemingly overmatched Havre de Grace, Edgewood and North Harford remaining on their schedule that now appears destined to end with the county crown.
In its only loss, Bel Air fell to C.M. Wright, 6-5, in their first meeting. But the Bobcats went on to sweep both matches from fellow contender Fallston -- which earlier dealt C.M. Wright what now appears to be a critical loss -- before defeating C.M. Wright in Tuesday's showdown.
The Mustangs' apparent fall from the top wasn't altogether unexpected since they lost 12 players from last year's team. Eleven graduated and two-time girls county champ Leigh Biggerman decided to play lacrosse instead.
Despite the losses, Mustangs coach Peter Griffiths has seen a lot to be happy about. "I was pleasantly surprised at how well they've done," said Griffiths. "I was disappointed to lose to Bel Air, but that's just how I am. I don't like to lose. But really, they have met if not exceeded all of my expectations."
TheMustangs have done especially well at their top two singles spots. Both the No. 1 boy, senior William Knapton, and the No. 1 girl, juniorSerena Thomson, could contend for county titles in two weeks.
Knapton remains undefeated after 13 matches, and has beaten all of his top rivals.
Thomson will have a tougher route to the county title having lost four matches.
Last year, Knapton only lost twice -- to eventual county champ Robby Kronenberg, of Joppatowne, and runner-up Dennis Voss, a Mustangs teammate.
Both of those exchange students from Germany are now gone, paving the way for Knapton to take his shot.
"I used to tease William about being the best American player in the county," said Griffiths, who put Knapton into the doubles competition at last year's county tournament.
Knapton and teammate Rob Holloway went on to finish second at the county tournament.
This year, Knapton already has beaten the three players who could give him the most competition at the county tournament -- Bel Air's Scott Berger and Jeff Roux and Joppatowne's David Neary.
Neary had been undefeated going into a Thursday match at C.M. Wright, but Knapton beat him, 8-1. (In Harford County, the first player to win eight games winsthe match. At the semifinals of the county tournament, scoring switches over to the conventional two-set format.)
The Mustangs went onto defeat Joppatowne, 10-1, but the lone loss came from Thomson. Although she had beaten Mariners senior Denise Ziolkowski already, Thomson fell 8-5 Thursday.
Ziolkowski wore Thomson down with one well-placed baseline shot after another. "I knew she was real consistent,"said Ziolkowski, "but she was getting tired, so I just kept running her back and forth."
Thomson also has lost twice to Fallston's AmyCox. Cox, the county runner-up last year, remains undefeated and appears headed for the county title.
In other matches Thursday -- allwon by the Mustangs -- Jon Zalewski won a tie-breaker to beat Jim Hausmann, 9-8, in No. 2 boys and Brian Willey topped Chad Hulbert, 8-2,in No. 3 boys.
In No. 2 girls, Katie Hatton routed Beatrice Bou, 8-0, and Jen Jones did the same to Kathy Parker, 8-0, in the No. 3 girls match.
In doubles, Ed Kim and Jeff Buler edged Damon Webster and Chris Williams, 9-7, in No. 1 boys and Mike Sostrin and Mike Scarff beat John Czinsy and John Gettle, 8-5, in No. 2 boys.
Deanne Caffe and Kristie Johnson beat Tiffany Metzger and Coralita Downing, 8-5, in No. 1 girls doubles.
Colleen Merritt and Susan Renner beat Meredith Koerber and Heather Utz, 8-1.
In mixed doubles, Jen Hutt and Dennis Cassidy beat Joe Gross and Karen Voit, 8-5.