River Hill coach Matt Graves has some bad news for the rest of Howard County - this year's tennis team might be one of the best he has ever had.
"Top to bottom, it's probably one of my most solid groups I've seen since my first year here," said Graves, now starting his fifth season. "We are very competitive, and I'm quite happy with what I have."
River Hill swept the boys and girls championships in the regular season and tournament last season. The Hawks were 14-0 on the boys side and 13-1 with the girls, and could fare just as well this season. They'll be helped by the fact that the boys lost only three players from last spring's team and the girls lost just two.
For the boys, county finalist Scott Burtzlaff is back after a strong 18-3 season. Junior Trevor Anderson will be at No. 2 singles and push the sophomore for the top spot.
Senior captain Jackie Davidson returns at No. 1 singles while sophomore Katie Sheliga gives River Hill strength at No. 2. Sheliga played with Elizabeth Kenez (graduated) on the top doubles team last year when they won the county title and finished second in the region.
River Hill has been Howard County's dominant team the last several years. The boys have won the county three of the four years Graves has coached while the girls have taken the title twice in that time.
Glenelg, led by senior Julia Facchina (an All-Metro pick last year), should again be tough. Facchina, who was in Marianne Baker's shadow for the past few years, finished second in the county and third in the state last year. Senior Krista Schmidt and junior Nicole Bogusluv also will help along with freshmen Robert Oehrig and Steven Murray at Nos. 1 and 2 singles, respectively.
Centennial freshman Ryan Lissner should be one of the top players in the county, according to coaches.
Broadneck, Old Mill and Severna Park tied for first in the county in the regular season last year before Broadneck took the county tournament. But Severna Park bounced back to take the regional title.
Severna Park lost only three of its 14 starters from last year. Coach April Pinder gets back All-Metro selection Allison Daciek at No. 1 singles. The senior won the county title at No. 1 singles and then took the region crown before losing in the first round of the state tournament.
Daciek was 13-0 in the county last season.
Junior Matt Bulkley will be at No. 1 for the boys. The Falcons face a strong early test Thursday against Old Mill.
Sophomore Christine Aggabao, who lost to Daciek in the county final, should spark Old Mill. Classmate Kristin King will be at No. 2 singles while coach Krissy Dryden's Patriots have a strong 1-2 punch on the boys' side with exchange students Derek Ralet (Belgium) and Pascal Albers (Germany).
Broadneck, under new coach Mylie Durham, has a number of good players, including senior Dave Rossiello at No. 1 singles. Senior Katie Wallace should battle sophomore Alissa Poerio for the top spot on the girls side.
Poly goes after its seventh straight Baltimore City title, but the Engineers will have to fight off a tough City team.
Coach Wavie Gibson's Engineers have a strong boys lineup of senior Harold Fowler, junior Luciano Brunetti and freshman Stuart Cushing at singles. The Poly girls are led by sophomores Blair Fleet, who lost to City's Anna Friedman, 6-4, 6-4, in the city finals last spring, and Aleya Frazier.
Friedman goes for her third straight city crown this spring. She finished with an 11-1 record and didn't lose until falling in the regionals.
"She is the player to beat," said City coach Maurice Chalmus.
Also in girls singles at City will be sophomore Wahiba El-Frih with freshman Lillian Friedman and senior Christian Hawkins. Juniors Loren France, Daniel Shelton and Jonathan Brundage will carry the load for City's boys team.
Pikesville should have a good shot at winning a 36th county title in 38 years, as coach Jerry Dresner again fields a very deep team.
Seniors Zach Chafitz and Andrew Kaye combined to take third in the state in doubles last year, but they'll move to singles as the Panthers will have little trouble replacing graduating players. Freshman Todd Jacobson - brother of graduated All-Metro pick Matt Jacobson - also will help.
Senior Zara Berengut starts the season at No. 1 for the girls, whose lineup isn't quite set yet.
"The girls are a work in progress but should develop some competitive doubles teams," Dresner said. "But the boys will carry more of the load, and we have a lot of depth."
Catonsville should be just as strong in singles as the Comets will have two of the county's top players in junior Ashley Harvey and sophomore Matt McDaniel. Harvey won the county's No. 2 singles title two years ago and lost to All-Metro pick Beatrice Grasu of Franklin in the No. 1 singles championship match last spring.