Although West Springfield, a solid favorite to repeat as Virginia's Northern Region girls tennis champion, has an experienced and deep lineup, the Spartans have no individual standouts.
"We have no real outstanding players, but 10 very good players," said West Springfield Coach Ron Tugwell. "There's a nice mix between the seniors and juniors, and the kids work hard."
West Springfield showed last week why it will be tough to contend with again this year. After trouncing O'Connell, 8-1, in the first round of the Wakefield Invitational, the Spartans met Woodson in a regular-season match.
The Cavaliers won four of the six singles matches, but West Sprinfield swept the doubles to win, 5-4. Spartan seniors Ellen Dexter and Jeanne Hull teamed in No. 1 doubles to beat Woodson's sister pairing of Isabel and Mary Margaret Pauley, 10-8, in the deciding match.
The teams met again in the semifinals of the Wakefield tournament, with West Springfield again prevailing, this time by a 6-3 margin.
"I found West Springfield to be a very steady, very deep team," said Woodson Coach Barbara Rogers. "Their lineup can be mixed up well."
Wakefield Coach Don Tomb feels that the Spartans should never lose at the Nos. 5 and 6 slots. "Their No. 6 is almost as good as their No. 1. That should tell you something about how good they are," Tomb said.
While West Springfield appears ready to repeat as Northern Region champion, individual honors are uncertain--particularly since last year's titlist, Michelle Taylor of Washington-Lee, opted not to participate in high school tennis this season.
"She's not going to play high school tennis this year so she can devote more time to practicing," said Washington-Lee Coach Mary Causey. "The competition in high school is not as good as the competition she'll face in practice," Causey said. Taylor, a junior, will practice four to five hours a day with her coach, Graham Stillwell.
The elder of the two Pauley sisters, Isabel, should benefit most from Taylor's absence. "Michelle is the only one in the Virginia public school system that I lost to last year," said Pauley, the Northern District champion the last two years.
Pauley, a junior, prefers a back-court game, but, according to Woodson Coach Rogers, "She can serve and volley, and her net game has improved."
West Springfield cocaptain Tatiana Stead said of Pauley, "She's so consistent. Isabel returns every one of your best shots--it's frustrating.
Rogers allows Pauley to practice with players outside of the high school. Currently, she hits with Nancy Ornstein, a pro who teaches out of Maryland and Virginia.
One newcomer who might challenge Pauley is Yorktown freshman Sally Ballard, a practice partner of Taylor's. Ballard spent the summer participating in USTA-sanctioned tournaments and is anxious to test her skills at the high school level.
"I wanted to play high school tennis rather than do what Michelle is doing. The competition will be good because I'll be playing No. 1," said Ballard.
Pauley, who defeated Ballard in their last meeting, will have to wait until November in order to defend her district title. At present, her main concern is a Sept. 27 match with West Springfield.
"West Springfield is real tough, but I think we can beat them."