There has been a change at the top in Virginia AAA Northern Region tennis circles. Robinson and W.T. Woodson, perennial boys scholastic titlists, have fallen on hard times and been replaced by T.C. Williams and West Springfield.
If there was any doubt that T.C. Williams was a quality team, it should have been erased just before spring break when the Titans easily defeated W.T. Woodson, 7-2. Left-handed freshman Philip Shipp led Williams with victories in the top flights of singles and doubles.
On the same day, Robinson's fall from glory was even more dramatic, as the Rams were routed by West Springfield, 9-0. West Springfield, eight players deep for Coach Cliff Hickman, won by a cumulative 90-31 score, with Ken Anderson and Scott Manoogian leading the way.
The movement of players that is a big part of high school athletics is responsible for the new balance in the Northern District, with T.C. Williams seemingly the luckiest of all. The Titans have added ninth-grader Shipp and No. 3 Cliff Toms, a junior who played soccer last season.
"We're winning because of determination and hard work, but sometimes one or two players can make the difference," said Titans Coach Ed Kallok. "They give us a chance to experiment with our lineup. It feels good. Anytime you win, it's much more fun."
Robinson and W.T. Woodson, meanwhile, apparently are headed for a year of rebuilding.
The Rams had six seniors playing singles last year. Their only experienced players this season are senior Greg Tonini and junior David Dearnes.
Woodson lost its top three singles players, including state champion Francis Alvir, leaving Danny Clarke at No. 1.
Senior Lee Bell of Oakton is also worth watching, ranking with Anderson and Shipp as the district's best. Bell was playing in an out-of-state tournament when Robinson defeated Oakton, 9-0, just before the spring break.
South Lakes in the Great Falls District lost only all-region senior Henry Hall, who played No. 4. The state runners-up in 1984, the Seahawks have Carl Clark at No. 1, followed by sophomore Rusty Spurlock and senior Jason McDevitt. Junior Kevin Grant joins Clark on the No. 1 doubles team.
The Seahawks were "lucky" to defeat Madison in an early season invitational tournament, said South Lakes Coach Paul Kaplan, who expects the Warhawks to be a threat later this season if they can improve their doubles teams. Herndon, the district champion the previous three years, returns senior Billy King, but is without the heart of last year's squad because of graduation.
Langley is expected to be in the middle of the pack, but could pull off some upsets if it gets strong play from sophomores Kevin Reilly, John Riedy and Sam Abuhambuh in the last three flights.
Fort Hunt and Mount Vernon have pretty much had it their way in years past, but the Gunston District race should be more competitive this year, said Fort Hunt Coach Gary Yohe. Fort Hunt junior James Ratchford is solid in the top spot, but he was beaten rather handily, 10-3, by Mount Vernon's Tin Phan, who, in turn lost to Groveton newcomer Adam Joyce, 10-2.
Lee's 6-3 loss to Fort Hunt may not be an indication of how tough the Lancers are, Yohe said.
In the Potomac District, Don Tomb has the good fortune of having two sets of talented brothers anchoring his singles team, signaling continued success for Wakefield, last year's district runner-up to Chantilly. Senior Jerome Smith plays No. 1 and freshman brother Jared Smith has started strong and continues to improve in the second flight. The brothers also make up a doubles team that benefits from Jerome's quickness and strong passing shots. At No. 4 singles there is senior Brent Olson; Olson's brother Scott plays a flight below.
The senior Smith has shown marked improvement, making up for last year's two losses to Chantilly sophomore Eric Bems with a 10-3 victory and leading the Warriors to a first-place tie with Annandale. Jefferson and Stuart also have been competitive. Wakefield, may have the advantage down the stretch, however, not having lost a match at home in six years.