National Cathedral School's Sarah Howard and Leslie Fahrenkopf are just two of the top players competing in the Independent Private School tennis league this spring. But they are two of the reasons the Eagles continue to win while keeping their domination in perspective.
The league, which was begun in the fall, has 13 members, nine of which compete in spring tennis: Holton-Arms, St. Agnes, Georgetown Visitation, Foxcroft, Maret, Holy Child, Immaculata, Georgetown Day and National Cathedral. Notre Dame, Sidwell Friends, Bullis and Calverton compete in the fall.
National Cathedral had the best fall record, 11-0; Holton-Arms finished 10-1. Cathedral is expected to also take spring honors as Holton-Arms has lost its four top players: Gigy Neely, Lee Ernest, Melissa Bromberg and Cathy Jordan. They either decided to play other sports this spring or concentrate on outside tennis obligations.
That leaves Howard, a junior, and Fahrenkopf, who received All-Met honors last year, an open door.
Howard, who fractured her kneecap in a fall match against Walt Whitman's Ellen Throop, isn't 100 percent yet. Howard was ranked 19th regionally in the Mid-Atlantic Tennis Association's 16 and under division last year.
Cathedral Coach Jake Kelly calls Howard an "extremely quick and consistent player," but thinks that she must improve her footwork. Kelly feels Howard isn't completely back to her preinjury form.
Howard disagrees: "I think my footwork is the best part of my game. I think I'm faster than a lot of the girls even though I don't have better strokes."
Before the injury, Howard was Cathedral's No. 1 player. This spring, she is the top seed once again. Although Howard is only 5 feet 1, she compensates by "outsteadying" opponents.
Fahrenkopf, a senior, is "trying to get back into shape."
"If someone wants to beat me right now," she said, "all they have to do is run me around. I'm not in the best condition, but I'm working on it."
She is considered a strong base-line player who isn't likely to live at the net. Her backhand is her strongest stroke.
Another top league player is Georgetown Visitation's Kelly Donahue, whom Howard calls "aggressive."
"Kelly hits the ball with a lot of power," said Howard. Donahue, at 5-9, has a good serve and good all-around game.
Elicia David now takes on the brunt of Holton-Arms' work. Another top individual is senior Gillian Thomas, who plays for Madeira. The school does not compete as a league member in tennis, but continues to play several league opponents.
But NCS looks untouchable. "They are a well-balanced team," said Holton-Arms Coach Robert Johnson. "They just outsteady you."
"We have a lot of depth and a lot of serious tennis players," said Jake Kelly. "We are lucky enough to have eight courts so everybody practices every day, and we are very, very committed."
Fahrenkopf represents that commitment. "I've been playing tennis since I was 9," she said. "When I moved here from Reno at age 14 , I began playing in the No. 10 spot, as opposed to No. 1 singles out west.
"I worked really hard to move myself up," she continued, "and I was successful."
She understands the deeper rewards of the sport she loves so dearly.
"The trophies are great," she said, "but, after a while, they just gather dust on your shelves. The mental toughness, the persistence, the self-discipline -- those are the things that will stick with me forever."
For Jake Kelly, these are the kind of words a coach hopes to hear but can't always convey. For Cathedral, it is another reason the Eagles continue to demonstrate excellence while never forgetting commitment.