Shook makes Eagles a cut above the rest Centennial tennis uses all resources

April 26, 1993|By Michael Richman | Michael Richman,Contributing Writer

It's doubtful that without coach Bill Shook's foresight, Centennial's tennis program would be as prolific.

The Eagles' head man for nine seasons, Shook maintains a no-cut policy, meaning he retains everyone who wants a spot on the team. The less experienced players -- who would otherwise have been turned away -- are prepared to someday compete for Centennial.

The strategy has been integral to the team's dynasty -- the Eagles are winners of three straight Howard County titles, six in Shook's reign and 11 since 1977.

"I could go all out and cut everyone who's not going to contribute to the team this year, but that would hurt us in future years," said Shook, who kept 50 players on the 1993 roster, 27 boys and 23 girls. "More students will benefit from a continuously strong program rather than putting all my eggs in one basket.

"I'm not thinking about this year's team. I'm thinking about the school's program. It's a year-to-year-to-year thing."

And year after year, the Eagles are the team to beat. After winning titles in 1977, 1978, 1980, 1981 and 1982, Shook became coach in 1985. Centennial resumed its winning ways with crowns in 1986, 1987, 1988, 1990, 1991 and 1992. In addition, the Eagles have won 31 consecutive county matches; Oakland Mills last to beat them early in the 1991 season.

Regional and state team playoffs don't exist because Maryland counties run the sport in different seasons.

Centennial's success has given it a mystique in opponents' minds.

"Yes, yes," Mount Hebron coach Cliff Bernstein said. "It's kind of known as the premier high school program in Howard County."

Junior Becky Knouse, who plays at No. 1 singles, said: "Since we've been county champions virtually every year, when [opponents] come into matches against us, they have to be really psyched because they really want to beat us. We're the target they want to beat the most."

At one time, Shook's no-cut system was unorthodox. However, Bernstein adopted the routine this season.

"I see both sides of it, the pros and cons," Bernstein said. "The pros are you get to cultivate and nurture talent for coming years. You get to do some team building and prepare for the mental aspect of match competition by putting players in simulated situations."

Shook's plan to develop from the bottom has been helped by the team's rich talent. Every year, he said, the graduating class sends at least one boy or girl to play college tennis. He noted that five boys and three girls under his tutelage have played at the Division I level. Dan Oppenheim, a two-time county singles champ, earned a Division I scholarship to Swarthmore College.

Talent-wise, this season is no different. In Knouse and her sister Stephanie, a No. 2-seeded sophomore, and No. 1 boys seed Brian Ruppert, a freshman, Centennial sports three players with Division I potential. Becky Knouse and Melissa Esposito, who's no longer on the team, reached state semifinals in doubles the last two years.

The Eagles are 6-0 and Ruppert, the Knouse sisters, senior Dave Allocco (No. 3), and juniors Quang Hoang (No. 4), Brett Bunch (No. 5) and Chong Choe (No. 7) are all undefeated. (There are seven seeds in boys and girls.)

Sixth seeds Brian Higgins and Julia Dougherty, and Susan Green (No. 3), Michelle Brown (No. 4) and Jeannie Lee (No. 7) are 5-1. Khan Pathan (No. 2 boys) and Shelley Gerhard (No. 5) are 4-2.

Doubles constitute five of an outing's nine matches so Shook places major emphasis on doubles in practice. He stresses consistency in all phases of the game: backhands, forehands, serving, and in the case of doubles, volleying. Players may complete 200 volleys -- 100 backhand and 100 forehand -- during a given sequence.

"When I see a doubles win I take pride," Shook said. "But if we lose a doubles match, to me that's a lot more personal because I'm hopefully spending and emphasizing more time in doubles. I'd feel I need to work a little harder with those kids."

Shook is dedicated to teaching proper fundamentals, but he also works off the court to instill enthusiasm. The coach orders team jackets, has created "Eagle Net News," a memo board, and has a scoreboard for home matches.

It's similar to his all-around commitment as coach for Centennial volleyball, winners of three of the past four Class 3A state titles and 41 consecutive matches.

"I want the fans to know that these kids are special," Shook said. "I do little extra things that give us an edge. Some people might think it's intimidating to have all this extra stuff . . . these kids are earning the extra attention I'm putting forth for them."

All of the extras "add a little bit of flair and personality to the team," Stephanie Knouse said. "It shows people we care about our team and how much time we devote."

Becky Knouse indicated that, despite all the paraphernalia and constant success, the Eagles handle themselves with proper decorum.

"We try to show people that even though we have a good team, we don't want to be cocky," she said. "We don't want people to think that we think we're better than everybody else."

No one knows how long Centennial's domination will last. But with only one senior -- Allocco -- among this year's seeds, there's no reason to believe the dynasty is near an end.

Bernstein, though, made a bold prediction. His Vikings played Centennial tough in a 6-3 loss April 19. The next time they meet, at Mount Hebron May 5, the Vikings will prevail, he insisted.

"We'll beat them when they come to our school," said Bernstein, who based his confidence on getting to pick the matchups as the home team. "Beating Centennial would be a great thrill for the kids."

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