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.
Mt. Hebron also brings back its own first-team player in junior Josephine Jung, who is the county's leading returning scorer after posting an average of 21.8 points last year. The Vikings have been a top four team two straight years and will be looking to make a move up the standings.
Wilde Lake is another team that has been knocking at the door, finishing third each of the last two years, and has junior Tyler Teachman (second-team all-county in 2013) leading the charge this fall.
In reality, though, parity could be the name of the game. Centennial, Reservoir and River Hill all have a second-team all-county player back in the fold and have the potential to impact the championship race.
"The past couple years those top couple teams were just head and shoulders better than everyone else, but I think this year is going to be much more wide open," Graves said. "Having four girls that can score is going to go a long way … 40 points may be the magic number in a lot of matches."
Among the biggest changes for this season is the switch in format for the County Championship tournament that is to be played Sept. 30 at Hobbit's Glen. It is now purely an individual competition for the boys and girls, eliminating the team aspect of the event.
To go along with that, there is no limit to the number of players each team may send to compete. The only stipulation is that the participants must qualify via their performance in regular-season matches. For the boys, any player who has a total of at least 45 points in their best three matches may compete. For the girls, all players who total 30 points in their best three matches are eligible.
Some of the top teams can now potentially qualify six or seven players of the same gender to participate, where in the past they would have been limited to choosing their top four.
The regular season is set to begin on Aug. 21 and, as things get underway, here is a snapshot look around the county:
2013 boys record: 10-1; 2013 girls: 10-1
Top boys: Seniors Chris Robinson and Max Rosenthal; junior Nick Osterman.
Top girls: Seniors Madison Fields and Amanda Petersen.
What you need to know: Both Raider squads were top two in the county a season ago, with the program wrapping things up with an impressive third-place finish at the 4A/3A state tournament. The boys have the core of that team back, but the key to sustained success will be finding consistent production from a fourth golfer. Robinson and Rosenthal — both first-team players in 2013 — are proven leaders that figure to be in the mix at all the postseason events.
The girls are in a different position considering that the team's top two players — Bryana Nguyen (state champion and Player of the Year) and Avni Johnson — have graduated. Petersen is a county title contender, though, and will try to combine with Fields and Kathleen Anderson to keep the Raiders among the county's elite.
2013 boys: 4-7; 2013 girls: 5-6
Top boys: Seniors Nick DeCunzo, Robert Hunter and Matt McShane.
Top girls: Senior Kaitlyn Wojtanowski; juniors Alice Kwon and Samantha Sterenberg.
What you need to know: McShane had a breakout junior campaign, never scoring fewer than 21 points during the regular season and then earning second-place finishes at counties and districts. He should again be in the mix for top individual honors and, to go along with that, coach Stephen Lee says he has taken on the team's leadership responsibilities. Hunter was a regular last season, averaging 15 points a match, while DeCunzo averaged 14 in the two matches he played.
The girls have three solid returners as well. Wojtanowski, who made second-team all-county as a junior, and Kwon both averaged 8.4 points a match last year. Sterenberg also saw regular time, averaging 7.3 points, and Lee says she may be the team's most improved player.
2013 boys: 9-2; 2013 girls: 7-4
Top boys: Senior Steven Segrist; junior Young Lee; sophomore Hayden Mikk.
Top girls: Senior Maddie Davis.
What you need to know: Segrist peaked at the right time last fall on his way to winning the district and state titles. Between him and Lee, who finished in the top 10 at states, the team has as strong of a one-two combo as anyone in the county. Mikk, who averaged 21 points in his six matches as a freshman, should push himself into the all-county conversation as well. The key then becomes getting consistent production in the fourth spot from any combination of senior DorShuan Shyu, Richie Abruscato, John McAuliffe, Michael Forester and Brandon Whitt.
The girls side has four seniors, spearheaded by Davis. She averaged more than 10 points a match as a junior. Behind her the team is still rounding into shape, as making up for the loss of senior Ashley Frost's more than 10 points a match will have to be a group effort.
2013 boys: 1-10; 2013 girls: 0-11
Top boys: Junior David Edwards; sophomore Patrick McDonald.
Top girls: N/A.
What you need to know: The Golden Bears are still in the building process, coming off a season where their two teams combined for just one win. The good news for the boys is that there is a nice mix of new and returning players, allowing the team to continue making improvements. Edwards and McDonald both showcased the ability to score in double digits on multiple occasions last fall, with Edwards finishing in the top 40 at counties.
The girls program, which traditionally struggles with getting players out, is still in the developmental stage.
2013 boys: 8-3; 2013 girls: 5-6
Top boys: Seniors Greg Cherry, Nolan Dunnigan and Sean Higgins; freshman Shashank Gupta.
Top girls: Sophomore Harper Lurie; freshmen Jacqueline Cherry and Alex Abrams.
What you need to know: The boys squad improved by two wins and finished among the county's top four last fall. Several key pieces graduated from that team, but Cherry is returning to lead this year's squad after averaging 19.8 points a match as a junior. Dunnigan and Higgins are other very capable returners. The wild cards will be Gupta, a freshman who coach Josh McGoun says has been impressive in tryouts, and juniors Anthony Poisal and Garrett Bauman.
Lurie was the top scorer for the girls team as a freshman, putting up just over 10 points a match. Two new faces join her on a squad that has three total players. Greg Metzger has come on board as an assistant coach.
2013 boys: 2-9; 2013 girls: 1-10
Top boys: Seniors Will Bartolotta, Erik Gates and Evan Spotte-Smith; junior Michael Doshim; freshman David Lewis Jr.
Top girls: Juniors Julie Reboullet, Kayla Appler and Seneca Friend; freshman Kiana Williams.
What you need to know: Coach Bob Hawthorne sees a lot of promise with this year's team, saying this has the potential to be the best one for the program in the last five years. Bartolotta is the top returner, having proven the ability to score in double-digits and going for as many as 15 points once last year. Spotte-Smith and Gates could potentially move their averages into double-digits as well.
While the girls only won once in 2013, they do bring back the top three from that squad and all should be improved. Reboullet leads the group after averaging 7.4 points each time out as a sophomore. In addition to the returners, Hawthorne says Williams should be an immediate impact player and has the potential to set freshman scoring records for the program.
2013 boys: 11-0; 2013 girls: 11-0
Top boys: Junior Bennett Buch; sophomores Jackson Courtney, Nick Mejia and John Szymanski.
Top girls: Junior Katelyn McIlvain; sophomore Meghan Quinn.
What you need to know: The sky is the limit for the Mustang boys, who have the firepower to exceed what was already a record-breaking season last year, including winning every regular-season match by double digits. It's not just the power at the top either, as the team boasts unprecedented depth. Senior Mike Walker and sophomore David Polefrone each have match experience and are capable of scoring in the 20s.
The girls graduated last year's top four players and don't have the numbers they have been accustomed to in the past. The two returners have plenty of potential, though. McIlvain averaged 11 points a match last season, including a career-high 19 in a win over Howard. Quinn, meanwhile, averaged 8.5 points in the two matches she appeared in as a freshman.
2013 boys: 3-8; 2013 girls: 8-3
Top boys: Seniors Shane Brookhart and Patrick Hardy; junior Jack Montgomery.
Top girls: Juniors Carmen Bodziak, Morgan Carguilo, Josephine Jung and Grace Kelly.
What you need to know: Hardy developed into one of the county's elite players last fall, making the state finals for the first time and finishing among the county's top eight at counties and districts. Brookhart, meanwhile, was the team's second-best player at last year's county tournament, and Montgomery has match experience as well. The team will be counting on the combination of freshman Lake Lloyd and sophomore Liam Hall to fill the fourth spot.
Jung gives the girls team the kind of star it needs to be a contender. She averaged 21.8 points as a sophomore and was a top seven finisher at the county championships. The other three girls are returners that have limited experience, but have showcased potential.
2013 boys: 1-10; 2013 girls: 5-6
Top boys: Juniors Matthew Claxton, Dennis Seyfried and Colin Steplowski; sophomore Chris Clyde; freshman Phillip Carroll.
Top girls: Freshman Kelly Claxton.
What you need to know: The Scorpions will be in the building stages again, but the good news is that the team has several players with experience. Steplowski has played the last two seasons and has shown the ability to score in double digits. Clyde and Claxton were two of the team's other representatives at last year's county championship tournament.
Kelly Claxton, the girls team's lone player, is new to the game.
2013 boys: 6-5; 2013 girls: 4-7
Top boys: Seniors Langston Banks, Peter DeBenedetto and Brandon Yang; juniors Daniel Kim, Ty Teodori and Pavan Vemulakonda.
Top girls: Senior Puja Trivedi; juniors Swati Adipudi and Erica Caporaletti.
What you need to know: Depth will be the greatest strength for the boys team, which has six returners with match experience. Daniel Kim is the leader coming in after posting 18.6 points a match as a sophomore, but Yang and Vemulakonda were right behind him with averages of over 14 points apiece last fall. Coach Karen Wolfe says all six of her top players are capable of scoring in the 20s.
Caporaletti will lead the girls after averaging 12.1 points a match and making second-team all-county as a sophomore. She was also the program's first female to qualify for the state tournament last year. Adipudi and Trivedi are veterans who have showcased the ability to score around double digits in matches.
2013 boys: 7-4; 2013 girls: 2-9
Top boys: Senior Kevin Green; sophomores Jacob Burman and Derek Gold.
Top girls: Seniors Caroline Bello and Lexie Hayward.
What you need to know: The boys team is young, but still very dangerous. Gold gained a ton of confidence from making the state tournament as a freshman and should improve upon his 17.9 scoring average. Green (16.3 points a match last fall) is another returner that worked extremely hard during the offseason. Burman, meanwhile, transferred into the program and has "tons of potential," according to coach Matt Graves.
The girls team has four seniors among its top six, including its two top returners in Hayward and Bello. Hayward made second-team all-county a season ago, averaging 13.1 points a match. She has the potential to make the jump into the county's upper tier this fall.
2013 boys: 4-7; 2013 girls: 8-3
Top boys: Senior Ryan Wilson; junior Austin Brady.
Top girls: Juniors Aryanna Andres and Tyler Teachman; freshman LeeLee Sands.
What you need to know: After winning the county title in 2012, the boys team continues to be in rebuilding mode. Wilson is the team's lone senior, and Brady (13.1-point average in 2013) is the only returner that averaged more than 10 points a match last fall. The final two starting spots will be divided up between a trio of sophomores.
The Wildecats' girls team has made tremendous strides the past couple years and has enough returning pieces to remain among the county's upper tier. Teachman was the team's leading scorer last year at 14.3 points a match on her way to second-team all-county honors. Andres also was among the county's top 20 scorers with a 9.1 average. Add in Sands, who coach Diane Caporaletti says "has been a nice surprise," and the Wildecats should be competitive in every match.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun