Burtzlaff serves notice

With an improved serve, River Hill's Scott Burtzlaff looks to end his high school career the same way it began - with a county title.

May 03, 2006|By GLENN GRAHAM | GLENN GRAHAM,SUN REPORTER

River Hill senior Scott Burtzlaff was an 11-year-old novice tennis player when he signed up for his first competitive tournament.

Unsure of his own level of play - Burtzlaff had taken a couple of lessons in prior summers - or what the competition may bring, he had little idea what to expect in the under-12 tournament.

Burtzlaff did know this: He went in with a fierce competitive nature, not wanting to lose. So he didn't.

"It really surprised me that I won the whole thing. From then on, I really started taking tennis seriously," Burtzlaff said.

With natural athleticism, a willingness to learn and apply new layers to his game and that competitive edge, Burtzlaff has proven to be a quick study. He ranks 12th in the United States Tennis Association's Mid-Atlantic section in the boys' 18 singles class and is undefeated at No. 1 singles for the Hawks.

Ken Guendel, the director of junior tennis at Aspen Hill Tennis Club in Silver Spring who coaches Burtzlaff, has been impressed with how his student has developed a well-rounded game. Burtzlaff has been in the program at Aspen Hill the past four years.

"He's not one of those kids who has played all his life," Guendel said. "To see his game develop - he's added all these different pieces to his game and that's what has been the most satisfying thing to see from him. You see some kids with all these different strokes and you go watch them in a competitive match and they don't use them. They go back to what is comfortable. It's nice to see Scott is willing to put in the time to find out what needs to be worked on, get it done and then use it in competition."

After attending a tennis camp at Lehigh University last summer, Burtzlaff received a detailed checklist of his strengths and weaknesses on the tennis court. He ran down the list and worked to improve on each area, most notably the addition of a serve and volley game that has kept opponents off-balance all season. In going 14-0 for River Hill this spring, he has yet to yield a set. Holding serve hasn't been a problem.

"That puts more pressure on my opponents," said Burtzlaff, who worked on a harder, flatter serve to run behind. "It forces them to make shots and you don't have to rely on yourself as much because I know I can finish at the net to win points quicker."

In four years at No. 1 singles for River Hill, Burtzlaff has a 61-10 mark. After capturing the county singles title as a freshman, Burtzlaff opted to play No. 1 doubles with Trevor Anderson when the postseason rolled around during his sophomore and junior years because it better served the team and gave him a better chance to advance further. The duo won county titles both seasons and last spring advanced to the state finals.

With Anderson having graduated, Burtzlaff has his attention back on singles for the postseason, looking to finish how he started and then make a strong run in the state tournament. Backyard competition will come from Wilde Lake sophomore David Nguyen, who matched Burtzlaff's freshman performance with a county title last spring.

"My big goal is to go undefeated and win states," said Burtzlaff, a B-student who plans to play tennis and major in business at Salisbury in the fall.

Growing up playing baseball and soccer, Burtzlaff turned to tennis because he enjoys the individuality of the sport.

Agreeing with River Hill coach Matt Graves' assessment that he is a "perfectionist," Burtzlaff has learned to channel his emotions and expectations into positive results over the years.

"When he was a freshman, he didn't like to lose any points," Graves said. "And after every point he lost, he would get aggravated and down on himself. He'd put so much pressure on himself every single point that I was worried if he would be able to make it through a match because he'd be so drained. He's matured so much since his freshman year."

Fellow senior Matt Davidson, who plays No. 1 doubles and often hits with Burtzlaff in practice, has seen the measurable change, too.

"The mental aspect of his game has really improved. He still gets upset at times, but now he uses it to get him going," Davidson said.

It's Burtzlaff who now brings frustration to others with his big serve, array of shots and ability to find an opponent's weakness. Just hitting in practice often has Davidson shaking his head.

"You're hitting with him and the ball has so much spin, it just jumps at you as soon as it touches the ground," he said. "It just takes off. It's ridiculous."

The county tennis championships are set to start next Wednesday at Wilde Lake and continue through May 13.

glenn.graham@baltsun.com

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