A surprise who's now the best in county Tennis: Steve Flora has been a winner since his freshman year, and now, a rare loss in singles has him focused even more to improve his game.

April 17, 1997|By Glenn P. Graham | Glenn P. Graham,SUN STAFF

When Westminster's Steve Flora teamed up with his best pal, David Shoffner, and the two won the county doubles championship as freshmen, it was a surprise.

When Flora moved to singles the following year and upset South Carroll's Andrew Stevens, who had beaten him twice during the regular season, to win his first county singles championship, it was another surprise.

After another county singles championship last year, about the fTC only surprise left from the Owls' senior comes when he loses a county match.

It hasn't happened often -- only once, in fact, since his last regular-season loss to Stevens back in his sophomore season in 1995. Last Friday, North Carroll's Dave Nowicki edged Flora 11-10 -- 7-5 in the tie-breaker.

"Nowicki's a good player and he deserved to win. He came

better prepared," Flora said. "Hopefully, this loss will get me to refocus and concentrate a little more, and work a little harder in practice."

Westminster coach Fran McCullin said it already has.

"When a loss is big news, you know you're doing something right," McCullin said. "You can tell Steve isn't happy. He's very intense and expects a lot. He's really come back and worked hard in practice since."

Flora remembers taking a tennis lesson in grade school but didn't play again until the summer after eighth grade, when Shoffner talked him into trying for the team.

McCullin said two things immediately stood out.

"I would say, first of all, Steve is mentally tough. He's very even-tempered emotionally, and there are no peaks and valleys with his game. He's not going to go cold," McCullin said. "And after that, it's his athleticism. His court coverage and quickness are physical blocks you can't coach. It makes a tennis player that much better."

The rest of Flora's game has come together, as well. As a freshman, he would just spin a serve in to get a rally started. Now, his serve is bigger -- a weapon.

His biggest stride came when he knocked off Stevens in his sophomore year.

"When he played Stevens the first time, Andrew was able to exploit certain weaknesses in Steve's game. The second time in the regular season -- about two weeks later -- we were able to close up some loopholes, but it was too close to the first time to really notice," McCullin said. "The county championship was as close to a perfect match as I've seen anyone play in this county. Steve came to the net and put the pressure on him. Andrew made some good passing shots, but Steve was there. He volleyed so well."

Said Flora: "I knew I lost tough matches to him both times going into the tournament. I came in with a good attitude, mentally focused, and I thought I could win. I worked on going to the net and focused on hitting good strokes in smart places."

Ever since, Flora's been the player to beat in the county, and only Nowicki has accomplished the feat. Being top player has its advantages and disadvantages.

"Once you establish yourself, you get a certain reputation, and Steve has done this -- especially at the county level," McCullin said. "A lot of times players are satisfied playing you close instead of beating you. That might make the job a little easier. At No. 1 singles, though, everyone can play, and you know you're going to be in tight matches and have to come up with good shots. That's where the mental toughness comes in."

For Flora, who also plays the guitar, enjoys skiing in the winter, likes to hang out with friends, and is deciding on James Madison or Salisbury State after he graduates, it's become his forte.

"I like to play to the best of my ability. In life, it's important to work hard and have fun. Hopefully, I can do the same with my tennis game," he said.

Pub Date: 4/17/97

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.