Marriotts Ridge boys golf

Marriotts Ridge golfers, from left, Nick Mejia, Jackson Courtney, Bennett Buch and John Szymanski will be trying to lead the program to its third straight state championship this fall. (Staff photo by Jen Rynda / August 14, 2014)

The first time was the breakthrough. The second time was validation.

Now, this fall, as the Marriotts Ridge golf team attempts to win its third consecutive state championship, it's about grabbing a piece of history.

Should the Mustangs, who won last year's 2A/1A team championship by a record 71 shots, reach the top again this season, they would become just the third program in Maryland history to raise the trophy three consecutive years. Winston Churchill won five straight times from 2002 to 2006, while Urbana won three straight titles between 2009 and 2011.

And, while nothing is ever guaranteed, Marriotts Ridge certainly has the kind of returning pieces that should, at the very least, put the team right in the thick of it once again.

"It's a special group, not just in terms of talent, but also in the way that they seem to push one another on a daily basis," said Marriotts Ridge coach Mark Dubbs, who brings back four of his top five boys from a season ago. "I think with golf, it's a different feel than some other sports, where there might be some pressure associated with trying to repeat. With these guys, I feel like success breeds confidence.

"They know what they're capable of, and that's what they expect of themselves."

Having a star like junior Bennett Buch leading the way certainly helps. Buch won the boys individual state championship as a freshman in 2012 before boasting the county's top scoring average last year.

Joining him at the top of the team's line-up is sophomore Nick Mejia, who won last year's county championship after finishing with a 26.4 average during the regular season. Then throw in a couple other sophomores — Jackson Courtney (24.1-point average) and John Szymanski (22.3) — that finished among the county's top 10 scorers a season ago, and it's not hard to see why the Mustangs are the nearly unanimous favorite among county coaches heading into the season.

There's plenty of talent elsewhere too, however, including the return of eight of the nine boys that made first team all-county a season ago.

Glenelg brings back its top three players, including defending state champion Steven Segrist (2013 Player of the Year), junior Young Lee (24.3 points a match) and Hayden Mikk (21.0). Atholton, which went 10-1 last fall, also brings back three guys — Nick Osterman, Chris Robinson and Max Rosenthal — who averaged at least 20 points a match.

Robinson and Rosenthal were both top six finishers at the county tournament as well.

Then there's Patrick Hardy at Mt. Hebron, Matt McShane at Centennial and Derek Gold at River Hill who give each of their respective teams state championship experience..

And don't sleep on Howard, which brings back several kids from a squad that flew under the radar much of last year while going 8-3 in the regular season.

It all adds up to Howard County having a strong chance of continuing its recent string of success on the district and state levels.

"It used to be everyone talking about the Anne Arundel County teams at districts and then those (Montgomery County) teams at states, but these last few years Howard County has made that jump," Glenelg coach Chris Beil said. "Now we're the ones everyone is talking about."

While the boys boast a wealth of familiar faces returning, the girls are on the complete opposite end of the spectrum.

Only two of the eight girls to make first-team all-county are returning, and that group of departed golfers includes four girls that finished among the top 12 female individuals at last year's state tournament.

That leaves a lot of question marks and the potential for a new team to make a jump into one of the top two spots in the county standings.

"After what has been an incredibly strong six or seven years for our girls program, we are in a rebuilding phase. It definitely gives you a deep appreciation for what those other girls were able to do together," said Dubbs, whose girls team lost just one regular season match the last four seasons on its way to three county championships.

While the girls race will indeed be wide open, expect Atholton to be among the teams in the hunt once again. The Raiders bring back first-team all-county performer Amanda Petersen, who averaged 20.9 points per match during the regular season as a junior, and Maddie Fields, who was the team's fourth player a year ago during a 10-1 campaign.