There was a time, not so long ago, when there were doubts as to whether Marriotts Ridge's golf program would ever be able to win the big one.
The Mustangs had finished runner-up in three consecutive state championship tournaments between 2009 and 2011. Each time the team held the lead following the opening round, and each time it faltered down the stretch.
Those days, however, are officially in the rear view mirror.
On Wednesday at the University of Maryland Golf Course, the Mustangs not only captured the program's second consecutive state title, but they did so in grand fashion. Posting a two-day combined score of 614, Marriotts Ridge won the 1A/2A crown by a state-record 71 shots over Poolesville.
And, for a little extra icing on the cake, the team's total was also 19 shots better than 3A/4A team-champion Wootton (633), making the Mustangs the event's overall team champion as well for the first time.
"Last year was the breakthrough, this year was about coming back and building on that," Marriotts Ridge coach Mark Dubbs said. "All the pressure was off, there wasn't any more worrying about whether or not this was going to be the year. There was a totally different feel to it.
"It wasn't a question anymore of if we could win, it was by how much."
Marriotts Ridge ended up being led by senior Rachel Lee, who finished third overall among the girls with a two-day total of 147. She had plenty of help, though, with sophomore Bennett Buch (tied for 10th at 153), freshman Nick Mejia (tied for 10th at 153) and Jackson Courtney (tied for 38th at 161) rounding out the team's scorers.
The Mustangs raced out to a comfortable first-day lead, shooting 315 as a team to establish a 29-stroke lead among the schools in the smaller classification.
But it was in the final round that Marriotts Ridge really made its mark, as all four of its golfers improved their scores. The team posted a total of 299 and won going away.
"We were winning, but I think we were all disappointed with our scores the first day," Lee said following the tournament. "I thought we played more like we expected today. Breaking 300 as a team was one of our goals coming in."
For Lee, who was a member of two of those teams that fell short at the state championships, winning back-to-back titles was particularly special.
"I like the idea of starting from the bottom and working your way to the top and watching that through golf, and this team, has been amazing," she said. "It means a lot to know we're leaving footprints at Marriotts Ridge that will be there forever."
As a testament to just how strong the Marriotts Ridge program has become, the Mustangs qualified four other players — Michael Dorsch, Lauren Kim, Marissa Davey and Ariel Biegel — for states in addition to the team.
Dorsch, with rounds of 79 and 78, placed in a tie for 14th among the boys. Kim, meanwhile, fired rounds of 77 and 78 to finish alone in fifth place for the girls.
Of those top six players for the Mustangs, all of which shot no worse than 81 either of the two days, four of them are freshmen or sophomores.
"I think that's the most exciting thing … we're built for the long haul," Dubbs said. "It's a credit to the kids really, they are the ones that are out there every day practicing and working to get better. They have an incredible work ethic and I think a lot of it is because they're constantly pushing one another. This kind of success just doesn't happen overnight."
Atholton finishes third in 3A/4A
It was a breakthrough year in a lot of ways for the Atholton program as well at the state event, with the team's charge being led by girls state champion Bryana Nguyen (134 total score).
The Raiders fired a two-day total of 639 and ended up just six shots short of Wootton (633) for the 3A/4A title. It was the highest finish ever for Atholton as a team at the state tournament.
"It's hard enough to just get here — this is the first time we've won the District and the first time we've made the championship round — so we talked before today about leaving it all out there," Atholton coach Scott Robinson said. "Everybody I think did that, with all three of the guys improving their scores and Bryana serving as our anchor again. I'm very proud of them."
In addition to Nguyen, Atholton also got strong efforts from Max Rosenthal (80, 78 - 158), Chris Robinson (87, 81 - 168) and Josh Lewis (94, 87 - 181).