Howard County golf has officially arrived.
Last fall, just eight years removed from shedding the club label and becoming an official varsity sport, county golf teams and individuals combined to win an unprecedented three state championships.
Marriotts Ridge's Bennett Buch set a scoring record on his way to the boys title, Atholton's Bryana Nguyen captured the girls title and Marriotts Ridge rolled its way to the 2A/1A team championship. And, for a little extra icing on top, Howard County produced three of the top four boys overall and three of the top seven girls.
"It was one of those special years where everything kind of came together and I think it shows just how far the sport has come here in the county in a fairly short period of time," said River Hill coach Matt Graves. "Every year, more and more kids are playing year-round and it's really starting to show in our results as a county at the state level."
The only question now is, what does this year's group have in store for an encore?
"I know for us, the success of last season has definitely carried over," Marriotts Ridge coach Mark Dubbs said. "There's a buzz around the team ... it's been there all summer as the kids have been playing together. They're excited about picking up where they left off."
On paper, the prospect of another stellar regular season and postseason for Marriotts Ridge, and the county as a whole, certainly looks promising.
The Mustangs' boys' squad brings back the Player of the Year in Buch, who finished second at the county championship tournament before winning districts and states as a freshman last fall. Backing him up will be returner Michael Dorsch (23.8 points per match), along with a trio of impact freshmen expected to hit the ground running.
Glenelg, with returners Steven Segrist (25.8 ppm) and Young Lee (25.3), will certainly also be in the mix for a boys team title. Centennial, behind all-county performer Matt McShane (23.1), and Atholton have firepower returning as well.
"I think for the boys it's going to be one of those three-tier type of seasons," Graves said. "There's a few teams with a lot of talent up top, some rebuilding and improved teams jockeying for position in the middle and then a fairly evenly matched group at the bottom."
But as talented as the boys field has the potential to be, the girls side of things is perhaps even more loaded. Of the 12 female players that were selected to one of the all-county squads last fall, 11 are back this season.
Nguyen (26.8 points per match), Marriotts Ridge's Rachel Lee (24.6) and Oakland Mills' Samyra Lewis (23.0) are the class of the group after all three finished among the top seven at the state championship tournament in 2012.
"We're quickly becoming the preeminent county for girls golf in the state and I really believe that's a reflection of how much Howard County has promoted it the last few years," Atholton coach Scott Robinson said.
Atholton is the defending regular season champions and the Raiders bring back their top three of Nguyen, Amanda Petersen and Avni Johnson. Marriotts Ridge brings back its top three as well, with Marissa Davey and Ariel Biegel joining Lee from a team that finished in second place.
The wild card may be the addition of freshman Lauren Kim to Marriotts Ridge's line-up. Kim has an accomplished junior golf resume and is expected to immediately be one of the county's top players.
Wilde Lake, Mt. Hebron and Glenelg rounded out the top five a year ago and should be right there once again.
New coaches are in place at three schools. Scott Osborne takes over at Hammond, Stephen Lee at Centennial and Josh McGoun at Howard.
The county will once again operate under the Stableford scoring system during the regular season, with players being awarded five points for an eagle, four for a birdie, three for a par, two for a bogey and one for a double bogey.
The only significant rules change involves the county's pace of play policy, with the goal being to get groups of four playing nine holes in as close to 2 hours and 15 minutes as possible.
In accordance with the new regulations, players are being required to hit their shots no more than 40 seconds apart from one another and to complete each hole in no more than 15 minutes.