Juniors Craig Shelbourne and Nick White of Walt Whitman and Greg Finck of Centennial are the early favorites to compete for the Maryland high school boys tennis singles championship at the state tournament, which will begin Friday at the University of Maryland.
Last year's winner, Steve Miguel of North Hagerstown, has graduated. Finck finished runner-up after defeating Churchill's David Kanstoroom (who defaulted because of an injury). Kanstoroom was expected to be a contender for the title this year, but he passed up high school tennis in order to fulfill outside tennis commitments.
Along with Shelbourne and White, Ted Keating from Bethesda-Chevy Chase and Larry Johnson from Einstein are other top players from Montgomery County. Billy Barber from Gwynn Park, who finished third in the state tournament last year, is the top player in Prince George's after winning the county tournament 6-2, 6-3 over Oxon Hill's Norman Taweel. Friendly's Ben Miller and Bowie's Danny Young are the other top Prince George's players.
Wilde Lake sophomore Jeremy Loomis won last year's state doubles title with Vince LasCasas, who has since graduated. Loomis is contending in mixed doubles this year with senior Jennifer Loundes.
But it is the singles matches that look to be the most interesting. White lost to Kanstoroom last year in the county final and to Miguel, 6-3, 3-6, 6-2, in the state tournament. Shelbourne lost to Kanstoroom in the county semifinals and didn't qualify for the state.
In the past four years, White has defeated Barber four times in straight sets. Barber, however, beat White in an out-of-school tournament, 6-3, 6-4, late last year.
"I was going through a bad period at the time," said White, "I also lost to Finck (6-1, 5-7, 6-3) at that time."
Finck, a junior, breezed through the Howard County tournament, losing only two games in three matches. He finished the regular season at 9-0, was 7-0 last year in an injury-shortened sophomore season with a lower back problem, and 14-0 as a freshman. Finck is ranked No. 1 in singles and doubles in Maryland in the Mid-Atlantic Tennis Association's 16 and under division. He is ranked No. 6 in the MATA's metropolitan area 16 and under singles.
In Shelbourne and White, Whitman offers two players of whom Coach Hugh Hammet said, "You can't spit on the difference between them."
Shelbourne, at 6 feet 1, uses his height well and "can serve and volley with the best," according to Hammet. He defeated White in the county championship at Montgomery College-Rockville, 4-6, 6-3, 6-3, last week. He has excellent shot placement as well as control and strength.
"I'm getting a lot more consistent on my shots," said Shelbourne. "Don't get me wrong, I'm still capable of playing poorly, but lately, I've been playing good, solid matches."
White is smaller (5-10) but, according to Hammet, hits the ball much harder than Shelbourne. He is a base-line player, but is not afraid to come to the net. His strength is his serve. "He just pounds it," said Hammet.
His weakness is not changing pace as often as he should and not utilizing the variety of shots that he possesses.
Shelbourne's only loss this year was a 3-6, 7-6 (7-3), 7-6 (8-6) four-hour affair to Chris Thompson of Landon.
Shelbourne and White have been alternating at No. 1 all season for Whitman. White, who is ranked fourth in the Mid-Atlantic in the 16 and unders and 70th in the nation, finished the regular season at 14-0.
"My game really varies according to whom I play," said White. "I like to force my opponent off-balance so I can hit a winner."
White, who is seeded No. 1 in Montgomery County, said he needs to improve his net game.
"Right now, I'll hit a short shot and stay on the base line, whereas I should follow it in," he said. "But I'm feeling pretty good about my game right now. I feel like I'm playing good tennis, using a good variety in my shots and most of all enjoying it.
"I like outdoor tennis. I feel as though I've been in a good rhythm for the past month and a half."
Gwynn Park's Barber defeated Taweel to win the Prince George's County tournament last season as a freshman. He was rated No. 1 in the MATA 16 and under last year.
"Barber is good, but he really isn't up to the level of Finck," said Centennial Coach Bill Shook. Finck beat Barber twice in straight sets this year.
"Greg has mastered the game for his age level (17)," said Shook. "He shows extreme potential if he maintains his interest and his high level of practice."