Last year, as a freshman, Springbrook's Jeri Ingram finished 17-0 and won the Maryland state girls tennis championship. As may be imagined, Ingram, 14, will be the main target in Montgomery County this season.
As Springbrook opened its season with a 7-0 victory over Blair, the Blazers' Elena Thompson probably saw more than she cared of Ingram, who routed her, 6-0, 6-0. Ingram gave up just 12 points in the two sets.
"She puts a lot of spin on her serve," Blair Coach David Ngbea said. "Most women serve flat, but she doesn't and that's one of her strengths."
After losing the first set and trailing, 0-2, in the second, Thompson took time out to seek advice from Ngbea. "It was unbelievable out there," Thompson said. "I was wondering what did I get myself into."
Except for Bethesda-Chevy Chase junior Ann Tillier, most of the county's players may end up repeating Thompson's woes. When coaches and players are questioned about Ingram, the accolades are many. "Incredible, amazing, awesome, consistent, strong, fierce, poised, the best, unreal."
"She hits the ball very well," Springbrook Coach Jay Downs said. "She has all the shots -- lobs, serves, drop shots. She's simply the best I've ever had."
What is so surprising about Ingram is her appearance. At 5 feet 3, she doesn't look to have the strength that she actually demonstrates. She is such an intense player that one coach commented, "She concentrates so hard out there, it looks like she isn't even enjoying herself."
"That's not true," Ingram said. "I know it looks that way but I am having fun."
Two players who could challenge Ingram are Tillier and Churchill's Missy Waldoff. Although Ingram is expected to win the county singles title, Churchill, B-CC and Whitman are expected to vie for team honors.
"Montgomery County is very lopsided as far as tennis goes," Churchill Coach Marion Rubloff said. "Most of the girls at Whitman, Churchill, and B-CC are being groomed for better things . . . "
Ngbea agreed. "On my team, everyone is basically a novice. I've got to teach them from scratch."
As Ngbea talked, one of his players interrupted: "Coach, do I have to serve overhand in the match today?"
"See what I mean," Ngbea says. "It's rough, really rough."
Springbrook's Downs proposed that teams be grouped according to last season's records. But the idea has yet to be accepted. There are three divisions: Division I, with Churchill and Whitman as well as Springbrook, Rockville, Gaithersburg, Seneca Valley and Blair; Division II, with B-CC and Wootton as well as Wheaton, Einstein, Paint Branch and Kennedy, and Division III, including Walter Johnson, Woodward, Richard Montgomery, Sherwood, Damascus and Magruder. Sherwood and Woodward are expected to dominate.
"It's very stratified," Rubloff said. "And there's nothing anyone can do about it. Whitman and Churchill are the cream of the crop. Woodward, Wootton, Kennedy, Sherwood and B-CC are in the middle and everyone else is way back."
If B-CC is to have a successful year, Tillier will have to be the key. A junior, Tillier is coming off two thigh injuries and a virus that kept her out of tennis all summer. Because of her injuries and the time away from the game, she said that "This year is a transition for me. I don't expect anything."
Injuries aside, Tillier is expected to work on her mental approach. She sometimes becomes so distraught over losing points that she loses command of her game.
Now, through hypnosis and studying, Tillier feels she has finally learned to concentrate and control herself.
"I'll never be an angel on the court," she said. "I grunt. I yell. It's my nature. I have to get a bit angry or else I just don't care."
Fans won't get to see a Tillier-Ingram match until the county tournament in October. Springbrook and B-CC originally planned to pair off Sept. 27. Due to scheduling conflicts, however, the match was canceled.
It is unlikely that Ingram will lose before then. Although she says that "Tennis is just something I do to fill up my time," come November, she may be halfway toward accomplishing an unprecedented four consecutive state titles.
Said Ingram, "If they didn't let me play tennis, I'd go and run track or something."