Springbrook's tennis season has been over for months. But don't tell Jeri Ingram.
Three months ago, she won her second consecutive county title. Since then the Springbrook sophomore has competed in four tournaments, reaching the finals twice, the semifinals once.
Last week, embarking on a tour that will cover more than 2,800 miles, Ingram traveled to Detroit to face top midwestern seeds. She advanced to the quarterfinals. Next week, Ingram travels to Chicago for the Aurora Classic. On Feb. 26, it's the Kentucky Classic. She will conclude the tour in Miami, with the Easter Bowl tournament.
Come spring, she will try to win back-to-back state titles. All of this for a girl who stated: "If I couldn't play tennis, I'd take up running or something."
Ingram, who is one of only six athletes sponsored by Head Racquet Sports (the company last year sponsored more than 100 athletes), defeated Bethesda-Chevy Chase's Anne Tillier, 6-1, 6-0, in the county final at Montgomery College-Rockville.
"I'm not used to playing people so good," Tillier, who finished the season at 14-1, said at the time. "Both her forehand and backhand are perfect. And even when you're playing well, she forces you into mistakes."
Game five of set one was a perfect example. Trailing, 3-1, but with a chance to break at 30-40, Tillier forced Ingram into the far corner with a strong forehand slice. Extending herself as far as possible, Ingram returned a soft lob that Tillier ordinarily would have cashed in. However, overanxious, Tillier rushed in and slammed the return into the net for deuce. Ingram took the next two points and the game. It was a pivotal point that provided a two-game turnaround. Instead of serving at 2-3 for a tie, Tillier was down by 1-4 and never recovered.
"You just can't afford mistakes like that when you play Jeri if you want to win," Tillier said. "She doesn't give you many chances. She just doesn't have any weaknesses. Not major ones anyway."
Ingram lost only one game in the entire four-match tournament.
"I figured the match would be tougher," was all Ingram could muster up afterward. "I was surprised."
One person who wasn't surprised was Jeri's father, Joe Ingram, who has taken it upon himself to "guide his daughter in the right direction."
"Jeri has probably the most complete all-court game of anyone in the Mid-Atlantic section," he said. This might sound like fatherly boasting, but Ingram won the state tournament last year as a freshman.
"Arthur Ashe saw Jeri play in Florida and he said she had the 'best set of wheels he'd seen on anyone in 15 years,' " said her father. "Ashe then asked, 'But can she think?' "
According to Joe Ingram, Jeri can think, but she has to be challenged. It seems that the lack of worthy competition in the county may have its pitfalls. During her 14-0 match record, she lost only 14 games out of a possible 168 this year for a .923 winning percentage.
"Jeri is lazy right now," said her father. "She can accomplish things so easily that she sometimes doesn't put in the work that's necessary. We're trying to work toward the future."
Although the competition may be meek in the county, Ingram doesn't believe his daughter should forgo high school competition. "If you can't give your school a couple of months a year, then something is wrong," he said. "Besides," he added, thinking like a father and a coach, "it gives you the discipline to play people who aren't as good as you."
Ingram for the second straight year was unbeaten. However, she isn't unbeatable. She lost in the Mid-Atlantic Fall Championships to Diane McKeon, a ninth-grader from Gaithersburg, and then lost again to her in the Winter Mid-Atlantic championships, 7-6 (7-2), 6-2.
"She (McKeon) is stronger than me right now and she has more experience but I enjoy playing her and I'll enjoy it more when I beat her," Jeri Ingram said.
"Even though Jeri lost that match, we consider it a win because Jeri finally attempted and accomplished things she hasn't been doing," her father said. "So it was a moral victory."
Those "things," he said, are serving more consistently and coming to the net. Jeri Ingram feels she needs to improve her net game dramatically.
"My net game has been getting better," she said. "I don't want to be a base-line player. I want to come to the net but I'm still not that comfortable with it."
Just how good is Ingram and how much better she will get? At the outset of the season, one area coach said: "If there is a better player than Jeri around, I haven't seen her."
Comparing Ingram to the Northern Region's champion, Jennifer Brandt, only enhances her image. Ingram won their only meeting, 6-2, 6-3. But by her own standards, she's just beginning.
"On a scale of 1 to 10, I'd say my game is about a 6 right now," she said. "There's still a lot of room for improvement."