As the defending girls doubles county champions, Atholton senior Rachel Knobel and junior Margaret Tatum came into this season expected to shoulder the responsibility of anchoring a youthful team attempting to repeat as county champions.
But just a few weeks in, Knobel and Tatum had already lost two close matches, to Centennial and Marriotts Ridge, while the teams youngsters — two freshmen and two sophomores were in the starting lineup April 22 at previously unbeaten River Hill — buoyed the Raiders.
"Technique wise they've been really solid, I was more worried about the mental game of it because Howard County is a grueling area to play tennis," said coach Michael Ashmead, whose team defeated River Hill (9-1) April 22 to improve to 10-0. "It was a major adjustment for the younger freshmen playing on the main ladder but they seem to have coped really well. And my seniors have been great role models, so I've got to give them a lot of credit for that, too."
"They're doing work," Tatum added. "And all of them are good."
In Monday's match, Atholton's mixed doubles team of Rachel Paek and Daniel Smolyak, both freshmen, Knobel and Tatum, and sophomore Victoria Kogan, the defending girls singles county champion, all won to give the Raiders the 3-2 team victory.
Knobel and Tatum's victory came against River Hill's previously unbeaten team of Rita Hung and Hannah Chun.
"This win was especially important for us, obviously beating an undefeated team, it means a lot to my partner and me as well because we were struggling earlier this season and now we're starting to pick it up, and it just feels really well timed and we're ready to get the ball rolling into countys," said Knobel, who will get a chance to avenge both losses down the stretch. "I think we just hadn't played together all winter so we just had to get readjusted to each other and now we're getting there."
After River Hill's Lynette Lee won at No. 2 singles by forfeit, and Neha Wadhavkar and Chelsea English won at No. 2 doubles, the match was tied 2-2. Kogan and River Hill's Caitlin Stewart-Moore, at No. 1 singles, were the last players on the court.
Stewart-Moore engaged Kogan in some long rallies, and even took a game from the defending champion, but Kogan proved to be too much, clinching the team victory with an 8-1 win.
"It's always nice to have Victoria out there as your last player ... she hasn't usually played front and center spotlight, because usually singles goes first, so it was really nice for her to get that experience," Knobel said.
On the boys side, River Hill won, 3-2, to improve to 10-0, as Atholton (6-4) wasn't quite able to pull off the upset.
Byron Hung and Alec Angradi each won their singles matches for the Hawks, and then the top doubles team of Nick Zhu and David Gerry clinched the team victory with a hard fought, 8-6, win over George Mao and Matt Sklar.
Atholton got its wins from the No. 2 doubles team of Collin McEwen and Mark Mao, and the mixed doubles team of Scott Lee and Jenna Sweet.
Lee was a county and regional finalist last year at boys singles, only losing to Reservoir's state finalist Biyik Akinshemoyin each time, but is considering playing mixed doubles in the postseason this year.
River Hill's undefeated boys play Centennial, which is also undefeated, on April 23.
"It's going to be another tough one," River Hill coach Jennifer Stoker said. "It's going to be hard for anyone to beat my team in singles, it's just going to come down to doubles again."
Last year, the River Hill boys shared the regular season county title with Howard.
Atholton is the defending County Cup champion, while River Hill won four straight from 2008 to 2011.
BOYS: River Hill 3, Atholton 2
No. 1 singles: Byron Hung (RH) def. Matthew Stevens (A), 8-0.
No. 2 singles: Alec Angradi (RH) def. Nick Zill (A), 8-0.
No. 1 doubles: Nick Zhu and David Gerry (RH) def. George Mao and Matt Sklar (A), 8-6.
No. 2 doubles: Collin McEwen and Mark Mao (A) def. Eric Lee and Shasta Braithwaite (RH), 8-3.
Mixed doubles: Scott Lee and Jenna Sweet (A) def. Sashant Palli and Kiera Hanrahan (RH), 8-2.
GIRLS: Atholton 3, River Hill 2
No. 1 singles: Victoria Kogan (A) def. Caitlin Stewart-Moore (RH), 8-1.
No. 2 singles: Lynette Lee (RH) wbf.
No. 1 doubles: Rachel Knobel and Margaret Tatum (A) def. Rita Hung and Hannah Chun (RH), 8-3.
No. 2 doubles: Neha Wadhavkar and Chelsea English (RH) def. Briana Stine and Erica Lee (A), 8-4.
Mixed doubles: Rachel Paek and Daniel Smolyak (A) def. Sarah Grunsfeld and Waldo Vazquez (RH), 8-2.