With six of his players spread across three different courts in the finals of the Howard County tennis tournament Monday, May 13 at the Wilde Lake Tennis Club, Atholton tennis coach Michael Ashmead had his hands full.
His predicament was made only slightly easier by the fact that he could completely ignore one of the courts — the girls singles final between Raiders teammates Victoria Kogan and Irene Lu.
"I pretty much just told them, 'guys, have fun, I'm not gonna coach you,' " said Ashmead, whose team easily outscored runners-up Centennial and River Hill to win its second consecutive Howard County Cup.
"They both played amazingly. They took it to three sets and they've been pretty much dead even all season. I was happy for both of them and I told them 'you're both champions.' They've been friends for a couple of years now, so it wasn't any anger. They were both happy for each other."
Lu, a freshman, eventually defeated Kogan, a sophomore and the defending girls singles county champion, in three sets — 6-4, 3-6, 6-0 — but regardless of the outcome, Atholton was the clear winner on Monday.
The Raiders finished almost 15 points ahead of Centennial (41.5-27), their closest competitor, and more than 20 points ahead of third-place River Hill (19.5), the County Cup winner each year from 2004 to 2006, and 2008 to 2011.
"The kids played well and played hard so its been a great end of the season so far," said Ashmead, who was treated to a mini water cooler dousing out of a tennis ball can after the trophy presentation. "Now we've got regions and states."
While Kogan also won a regional title last year and was named the Howard County Player of the Year, Lu entered high school with an impressive résumé of her own. The freshman has been playing for four years, training out of the Hong Tennis Training Centre in Gaithersburg, and has an extensive USTA tournament background.
"She is a really incredible hitter. She has the ability to have great ball placement while actually hitting the ball, which is very hard for an incoming freshman to do," Ashmead said.
Lu and Kogan have actually played doubles together in USTA tournaments.
"I just tried to play my best. I know she's really a fighter so I knew it was going to be a long match and it was," Lu said. "It was fun playing her."
The boys singles finals featured one familiar face — Reservoir's two-time defending county champ Biyik Akinshemoyin — and one newcomer — River Hill freshman Alec Angradi.
Akinshemoyin, who stood nearly a foot taller than Angradi, won his third county title in straight sets, 6-2, 6-3, but was impressed by his younger opponent.
"Tennis is not a game by age or by size, or by power, it's about what you can do with that racket. The racket does the talking, not the size. Your size doesn't hit the ball, the racket does, and if you have great technique like Alec does and good fight, the courage to stand up against the bigger players like me … if you have all of those qualities in your game you can use that to your benefit, which he did, and that's how he got to the finals," said Akinshemoyin, who made it all the way to the state finals last year. "We're good friends and we had a good time."
Atholton also got a win at mixed doubles from the senior duo of Jenna Sweet and Scott Lee, who defeated Howard's Emma Hoesman and Max Balter in three sets, 6-1, 5-7, 6-1. Hoesman won a mixed doubles county title with Kyle Shope last year.
"When we won the first set, 6-1, we got really confident in ourselves so I think we just let our guards down," said Sweet, who plans to play for Division III Randolph College in Virginia next year. "Our strategy is for me to get my first serve in and he poaches, and that's how we usually win points. My first serve was not on and so I took off some power and it went in and Scott was able to poach."
Lee, who lost in the boys singles finals last year, hopes to play club tennis as a medical student at Baylor University next year.
"This experience these past four years has been unforgettable," said Lee, who battled cramping during the championship match. "Jenna defended me well in the end and that was all we needed."
Centennial, the runner-up in the team standings, swept the boys doubles and girls doubles finals, with Chase Weinberg and Kevin Hsieh sweeping Atholton's George Mao and Matt Sklar, and Simone Jensen and Megan Mishra edging Mt. Hebron's Kiran Pant and Serene Mathew, 7-6 (4), 7-6 (6).
"It's amazing, so far we're undefeated," said Mishra, who was a county and regional finalist last year as a junior with the now graduated Isabel Yu. "We communicate really well."
Jensen, also a senior, said that they did not know what to expect from Pant and Mathew since that pair of Vikings had not played together during the regular season.
"We were pretty confident ... (but) it kind of came out of nowhere since we hadn't played both of them together," she said. "Going to states, that is our goal."
Weinberg and Hsieh were also boys doubles county champions as sophomores, but last year Weinberg played singles, placing third at regionals, while Hsieh continued to play doubles.
"It feels good to be county champions again," Hsieh said.
As sophomores, Hsieh and Weinberg earned the second seed at the state tournament at the University of Maryland, but did not make it out of the first round.
"We want to get back to states and see what we can do there ... I think we have a pretty good chance at making a deep run," Weinberg said. "We'll have to be at the top of our game again like we were today."
Final County Cup team standings
1. Atholton, 41.5
2. Centennial, 27
3. River Hill, 19.5
4. Mt. Hebron, 16
5. Reservoir, 15
6. Marriotts Ridge, 14.5
7. Howard, 12.5
8. Wilde Lake, 9
9. Glenelg, 7
10. Oakland Mills, 4
11. Hammond, 2.5
12. Long Reach, 1.5
Boys singles: Biyik Akinshemoyin (Re) def. Alec Angradi (RH), 6-2, 6-3.
Boys doubles: Chase Weinberg and Kevin Hsieh (C) def. George Mao and Matt Sklar (A), 6-1, 6-1.
Girls singles: Irene Lu (A) def. Victoria Kogan (A), 6-4, 3-6, 6-0.
Girls doubles: Simone Jensen and Megan Mishra (C) def. Kiran Pant and Serene Mathew (MH), 7-6 (4), 7-6 (6).
Mixed doubles: Jenna Sweet and Scott Lee (A) def. Emma Hoesman and Max Balter (Ho), 6-1, 5-7, 6-1.