New coach Blakeslee aims to keep Centennial on top HOWARD TENNIS PREVIEW

March 26, 1995|By Rick Belz | Rick Belz,Sun Staff Writer

Despite the loss of their legendary coach, Bill Shook, expectations are as high as ever for the Centennial Eagles' tennis dynasty.

That high expectation puts a lot of pressure on incoming coach Linda Blakeslee, however.

"It's a difficult role to step into," Blakeslee said. "Hopefully we're good enough not to embarrass me. We have a lot of depth and are a strong team."

Blakeslee, a 12-year social studies teacher at Centennial and the department chairman, still plays tennis competitively herself, so she knows the game.

What she must learn is how to coach. This is her first stint as a high school coach. And she'll be leaning on some of the players to help her when it comes to deciphering opposing talent.

"I don't know who is good on the other teams yet," she said. "But my players know."

Centennial will base its defense of the county title on a talented group of experienced athletes.

On the boys side, junior Brian Ruppert will play No. 1, with senior Brett Bunche at No. 2 and junior Brian Higgens at No. 3.

"Higgens is a strong doubles player," Blakeslee said.

Sophomore Matt Ruppert, Brian's brother, is No. 4.

On the girls side, senior Stephanie Knouse is back. She went 24-0 last season and teamed with her sister Becky to win the state doubles championship. She's ranked No. 11 in the state 18-and-under division.

She'll be joined by freshman Katie Dougherty, who'll play No. 2. Senior Michelle Brown will play No. 3 and junior Julia Dougherty No. 4.

Centennial went 14-0 in county play last season, and its last loss to a county team was two seasons ago to Mount Hebron. That loss broke a 36-match winning streak.

Mount Hebron (11-3 a year ago) figures to be competitive, led by returning county boys champion David Mitchel, who lost in the second round of last season's state tournament. Mitchel is a strong serve-and-volley player who thrives on playing at the net.

Sophomore Matt Chen and senior John Sniscak will play No. 2 and No. 3, respectively.

"We have a great deal of potential for our boys team," Vikings coach Cliff Bernstein said. "But our success will depend on how well our girls play."

Mount Hebron lost its top three girls from last season. Junior Jamie Stasiulewicz, No. 4 last season, has moved to No. 1. Senior Magda Malak is No. 2.

"I think we'll challenge for the No. 1 spot [county championship] after finishing second the last two years," Bernstein said.

Glenelg, a team that finished 8-6 and fourth last season, is optimistic about its chances. Coach Jean Vanderpool sees her team finishing at least among the top four teams.

Glenelg returns two seniors on the boys side and two on the girls side. Jeff Cline will play No. 2 and Tate Fenner No. 4. Allie Spencer (No. 2) and Andrea Beddingfield (No. 4) give the Gladiator girls experience.

But Glenelg's No. 1 players are freshmen, Justin Benioiel for the boys and Tonya Day for the girls.

Howard, third last season at 9-5, might struggle to make the top half of the county teams.

"We're not as strong as last season," coach Craig O'Connell said.

Its top male player, Sam Booker, finished second in the county last season after winning the county title as a sophomore, but he'll miss his senior season due to academics.

So sophomore John Rockwell takes over as Howard's No. 1.

The Lions return three experienced female players, junior Christine Chapelsky (No. 1), junior Megan Boehm (No. 2) and senior Rebecca Powell (No. 4).

Wilde Lake is a team that expects to move up significantly from its 3-11 record and seventh-place finish of a year ago, when the Wildecats couldn't even field a complete team.

What has turned things around on the girls side is a strong freshmen class led by Lauryn Taubman who will play No. 1, and Alexia Szabo who might win the No. 2 spot from junior Mary Valverde.

Wilde Lake coach Rick Wilson returns three senior boys, Jason Engel (No. 1), his brother Andrew Engel (No. 3), and Brandon Haus (No. 2).

"We could finish in the top three if our younger players come through," Wilson said.

Atholton has a new coach, Gregory Dubac, and a freshman standout Karen Prangley. The Raiders finished 6-8 and fifth a year ago.

Prangley is ranked No. 2 in the state at under-14 and is ranked among the top 150 players nationally at that age.

"She hits a ton and has everything -- serve, ground strokes, footwork," Dubac said.

Gina Duffin, the senior captain, will play No. 2 in what Dubac considers a rebuilding year for the girls.

The boys are led by senior Josh Prangley (No. 1), Karen's brother, and sophomore Adam Abramson (No. 2).

Hammond graduated 11 players and returns just four players.

But senior Keely Alexander finished second in the county and won the region last season. She was 14-4 last year.

Oakland Mills also is trying to build. The Scorpion boys return junior Shomo Sihni, and seniors Radmil Elkis and Jerry Low.

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