Girls tennis in Montgomery County has been a surprisingly successful program despite what could almost be considered a comedy of unforced errors.

Playing in the fall is the first foot fault in the program. State championships matches aren't played until the spring -- that gives anybody having a hot season six months to cool off.

Another serve into the net is the ways teams are arranged into divisions -- that alone has made for some interesting mismatches.

"The way they divided up the league is kind of different," said Churchill Coach Julian Schraibman. "They listed the 21 schools by number of students enrolled, and then divided the list into thirds -- the most populous schools are Division I, the least populous Division III. What's strange about it is that the system has AA (league) playing A schools and B schools."

Despite the divisions, certain teams evolved as dominant forces in the county tennis scene. Churchill and Whitman in Division I, Wootton and Sherwood in Division II and Walter Johnson in Division III have consistently fielded strong teams.

Although the tennis muscle remains in those five schools, coaches said the teams are more equal in talent than ever before.

"I see a more even distribution of talent this year," Schraibman said. "The population is shifting -- there are a lot more high school kids in the Gaithersburg and Damascus areas."

"I suppose it's true (that the teams are more balanced)," said Whitman Coach Hugh Hammett. "We graduated a lot of talent last year."

County teams may not have the superstars of years past, but each team is boasting its own returning bright spots.

Sherwood's Deanna Dooley is "moving quick into regional rankings and constantly improving," said her coach, Bill Harrison. Dooley had an 11-1 record last season and is undefeated this season. Best of all for Harrison, she's only a sophomore.

No. 1 singles Ellen Throop and No. 2 Laura Middleton are leading Whitman, while Gloria Su and Jean Smith are providing what Hammett calls his "strong middle line-up."

Carrie Saia and Angie Albertini have been fighting it out for the No. 1 singles spot at Wootton. Patriot Coach Stan Wolk expects the two to be among the top seeds in the county tournament.

Senior Liz Chabner is drawing the county's best playing No. 1 singles for Churchill. Chabner has chalked up three wins in her first four matches.

Although all the coaches are talking about records -- reveling in their victories, lamenting their defeats -- few are overly concerned with their win-loss percentage at this point.

"We play a lot of these teams twice, and only the second one counts," said Wolk. "Right now, we've played four games and we're 2-2, but in our league we're 0-0."

"Our win over Wootton was a big victory for us," said Sherwood's Harrison. "It helped our confidence. Wootton is a good team with good balance."

The real concern are the rematches.

"We have to play Wootton again," Harrison said. "They'll be ready. We'll have to be extra-especially tough to beat them twice this season."

"We've got to play Churchill again," Hammet said, expressing concern although his team has won its first four matches. "They"ll be tough."

"We lost to Wootton and Whitman, but we'll go up against them again," said Churchill's Schraibman. "But I expect we'll have over a .500 season."

The "balance of talent" may mean the county divisional championships are up for grabs this year, and every coach is ready to take it.

"Over the last two years, we've gone 15-1," Harrison said, noting five consecutive victories this season. "We'll be fighting for the championship up to the last match. My expectation for the season? I expect we'll win."

"I'm optimistic that we can win our division," Wolk said. "After our losses, I'm being more careful and cautious about my predictions. Our quest for the divisional title will hinge on our beating Whitman and Churchill."