Rulers of the court

Emphasizing team goals over individual accolades, Pikesville's tennis program has won 38 county championships in 40 years, including the past 11.


Paul Burgin has played tennis for Pikesville only a few months, but he already has a strong connection to the Panthers' winning tradition.

"I just wanted to follow in the footsteps of my dad, who played here," said Burgin, the Panthers' No. 2 singles player.

Year after year, former Panthers such as Harold Burgin, who played on three Baltimore County championship teams in the mid-1970s, have left a legacy that each new wave of teenagers has continued, fueling the most dominant program in Baltimore County sports history.

Since the Panthers took to the courts in 1966, they have won 38 of 40 county championships, including the past 11. Next week, they go for No. 39.

In match play, the Panthers have an all-time record of 496-15-2, which includes winning streaks of 105 from 1967 to 1976 and 155 from 1978 to 1988.

"That is awfully impressive," said Mark Trotta, who has coached Hereford tennis for the past 22 years. "We've never beaten them. We've come close twice, but we've never beaten them."

For Harold Burgin, a 1976 graduate, the years have fostered a greater appreciation of how remarkable Pikesville's tennis history really is.

"You realize that all the folks that came before and after you were part of something that spans 40 years and you get a greater sense of it. It's a legacy that's gone on for more than a generation," Harold Burgin said.

Junior Paul Petrov, the Panthers' No. 1 singles player, said he feels an obligation to keep the wins coming.

"The success of this program has been going on for a really long time," Petrov said. "I don't have any relatives who played here, but I've got to uphold the tradition."

For most of the players, however, the tradition is just something they hear about. Coach Jerry Dresner has often said he takes the tradition more seriously than most of his players.

"Paul Burgin is kind of an exception, because he's got that history in his family, but most of the players don't," Dresner said. "The psychology of it is I tell them when they go out there and it says Pikesville on their shirts, they sort of have an advantage at the beginning and I try to get them not to give that up."

The Panthers don't give up much. During Dresner's eight-year tenure, they have gone 73-7-1. Their last loss was to Catonsville in 2002.

Over the years, other county teams have had better individual players, but the Panthers have consistently had one thing that other programs haven't been able to match.

"It's been mostly a matter of depth," Dresner said. "We don't always win the top spots [in the county finals] ... but we've never lost at No. 2 boys singles, we almost never lose in doubles and mixed doubles."

Dresner said the Panthers have never won the No. 1 girls singles title since he started coaching, and they have won the boys singles only half the time, but they rack up points in all the events at the county finals, in which the top eight score in each event.

That depth, especially on the boys side, helps them win regular-season matches, too.

"He has enough guys that if some players can't make it, he can put someone at a different position and they're still strong," Trotta said. "In a program like ours, if my No. 1 guy is not there, we might be in trouble. Pikesville is able to cover that."

The Panthers haven't lost a match since Catonsville beat them in 2002. Since then, they are 38-0-1 as of Friday's win over Franklin.

Some of those victories come easily because a few county teams can field only a handful of players, but the Panthers have handled the county's other strong teams, such as Dulaney, Towson and Hereford, too.

The Panthers always have several players with Mid-Atlantic Tennis Association rankings, but they also have a strong tier of players who have grown up with the sport, taking lessons and playing locally.

"The community is just a tennis community," Owings Mills coach Kevin Wagman said. "The kids see their parents play and their grandparents play and many people have tennis courts in their backyards. The Hilton club is right there, the Greenspring Racquet Club, and there are other tennis facilities located in the Pikesville area."

Wagman knows all about Pikesville's dominance. While he coached the Panthers from 1983-1991, they went 144-1 with nine county titles.

Although the Panthers haven't done as well on the state level - where only individual champions are crowned - even the best Pikesville players are drawn to the team experience.

"The atmosphere here is a lot more relaxed, because for the most part, we're pretty confident we're going to win and we're all one team," Paul Burgin said. "In the junior tournaments, while we have friends there and we do socialize there, it's more of a dog-eat-dog world and we're all playing for ourselves."

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