Area High School Programs Starting to Feel Impact of Montgomery TennisPlex

Photo | Mac Kennedy ​Northwest’s Jahnavi Murali plays in an Oct. 8 match against Quince Orchard.

Photo | Mac Kennedy
​Northwest’s Jahnavi Murali plays in an Oct. 8 match against Quince Orchard.

Tennis, with all of its intricacies, is not the type of sport that can be picked up in a day, month or even a year. The skills needed to be a competitive player, especially in tennis-rich Montgomery County, take years to develop, second-year Quince Orchard High School girls’ tennis coach Chris Barber said.

“You can’t hide in tennis,” Barber said. “It’s a challenging sport. I can’t take a raw beginner and make her competitive at the high school level, at least quickly. We had only four girls cut this year; they had never played tennis before. That’s kind of the lay of the land so to speak.”

The Cougars (2-7), who are currently in the county’s second division, and crosstown rival Northwest (6-3), which has dropped down to Division III, have both spent time in the county’s top division but neither has experienced much success there or at the state level. Quince Orchard has won a total of two state titles since the tournament’s 1975 inception—out of 200 possible championships—but none since Derek Nguyen’s 1996 boys singles win; Northwest is searching for its first.

But it appears the construction four years ago of the Montgomery TennisPlex at the Maryland SportsPlex in Boyds is starting to take effect at the high school level, Northwest coach Marie Franklin said.

“I think the TennisPlex has been a real positive edition to the tennis community,” Franklin said. “They run many youth programs; those feeder programs have been very helpful. I play there myself a lot and I see kids there regularly, I see them come in for their lessons.”

Franklin and Barber both spoke of a young and promising presence on each of their respective squads. While Quince Orchard is led by senior captain Caroline O’Keefe at No. 1 singles, six total freshmen, including No. 2 singles player Serena Tong, make up nearly 50 percent of the Cougars’ roster. Four-year starter Joyce Zhou sits atop Northwest’s lineup and classmate Jahnavi Murali rounds out the singles at No. 4. But it is sophomore Sela Furutan and freshman Cynthia Eapen who play Nos. 2 and 3 singles. Freshman Tracey Tran is also an important part of the lineup as part of the No. 1 doubles pairing but has filled in at singles and will likely add depth to the singles lineup next fall, Franklin said.

“I had two nice (freshman) surprises this year and they’ve just been a breath of fresh air,” Franklin said. “They know how to play, they’ve had formal training. They’re sort of the future of our team. We’re losing six seniors and they’ve been stalwarts of the team. But it’s nice to know I have some tennis players who already have the skill, it’s refreshing.”

Recipient of the U.S. Tennis Association’s 2014 Outstanding Facility Award, the Montgomery TennisPlex, built on nine acres of land, consists of two air-conditioned, four-court indoor tennis bubbles and an additional four outdoor courts with lights. Aside from pure aesthetics, the facility is attached to one of the most renowned coaches in the Washington, D.C., area and the nation: 2000 USTA Mid-Atlantic Hall of Fame inductee and TennisPlex Chief Executive Officer Jack Schore.

In 1986 Schore helped fund the construction of the tennis bubble at the Bullis School, and he coached the Bulldog boys to nine Interstate Athletic Conference titles in his 27-year tenure.

He has also coached five top-50 ranked professional tennis players, including former World No. 1 doubles player Richey Reneberg and Wimbledon quarterfinalist Dan Goldie.

Proximity to a facility that offers extensive programs for all ages (beginning at 4-under) and levels is extremely important, Franklin said. That’s been part of what’s separated areas that are traditionally strong in tennis, like Potomac, Rockville and Bethesda, from the rest of the county. The Montgomery TennisPlex is a USTA Designated Early Development Center and Certified Competitive Training Center.

But another attractive quality is that unlike many tennis clubs in the surrounding area, there are no membership or admission fees and court time and instruction is extremely affordable. Franklin also added that General Manager Kevin Dowdell seemed flexible on prices according to what families are able to afford; he is more interested in attracting youth in the community to tennis.

“Playing tennis in high school, (kids) see how important it is to continue in the sport,” Franklin said. “To get better, you have to keep feeding it. In talking to Kevin Dowdell, they’re very interested in pulling youth in; they’re very flexible with different programs and different prices. That is attractive to many players coming in. I’ve heard even more talk about (the TennisPlex) this year than I did last year. My only thought is that it’s having a positive impact on the tennis community, the youth in our community and because it’s in our cluster, it makes it attractive and available.”