On Wednesday afternoon at previously undefeated Mt. Hebron, Marriotts Ridge coach Scott Dingman had a hammer — freshman Abby Thorton. He just had to know where to swing it.
Thorton, one of the top tennis talents in the state, has not yet been challenged at No. 1 singles this spring. And junior Alana Ravasio, last year's No. 1 for the Mustangs, is nearly unbeatable at No. 2 singles. But earlier this season, Mt. Hebron knocked off the Mustang girls by sweeping the three doubles matches.
So this time, Dingman deployed Thorton alongside Anna Xi against Mt. Hebron's Kiran Pant and Serene Mathew, who were county and regional finalists last year.
"They put their best kids at 1 doubles and 2 doubles," Dingman said. And No. 1 doubles "ended up being the deciding match."
Thorton — with her booming serve and forehand — and Xi clinched the team victory with an 8-4 win to help the Mustangs avenge their only loss and improve to 10-1.
"Playing doubles is fun, I like playing with the team ... Anna played really well and we worked great together," Thorton said. "I actually love playing doubles ... I just love the team experience."
Mt. Hebron coach Lisa Vitali said that she anticipated the strategic move.
"It came down to the doubles and part of it was a confidence thing, having seen Abby play: big serve, big forehand. But it's what I thought they would do and we did the best we could to combat it and they came out on top," she said. "We haven't played Atholton or Centennial or River Hill yet so we'll see, we have a long way to go."
The Vikings, who still have three matches to make up, fell to 7-1 with their first loss of the season.
Ravasio defeated Priya Emani, 8-4, at No. 1 singles, while Anna Kuligowski, normally a doubles player, defeated Ronnie Nitkin, 9-7, at No. 2 singles.
"We had the opportunity to win the match at second singles, but Anna played very hard and tough and came back," Vitali said. "Emani had the best match that she has played in a long time. She played with confidence. She hit the ball against a really good opponent and someone she knows as a player and she still went in with the idea that she had a chance, instead of being too scared to face (Ravasio). I told the team she had the best match of the day."
Mt. Hebron got its wins at No. 2 doubles (Mallory Baldwin and Hannah Kang) and mixed doubles (Tess Weber and Rohil Bahri).
On the boys side, Marriotts Ridge improved to 10-1 with a 5-0 sweep. Marriotts Ridge has only lost to Atholton this season, while Mt. Hebron (6-2) has only lost to Marriotts Ridge.
Sophomore Cade Buch, the Mustangs top singles player, has only lost once this season, to Atholton sophomore Matt Sklar. Buch won, 8-1, against Mt. Hebron on Wednesday.
Daniel Lee, at No. 2 singles; Ben Klawson and Jack Weymer, at No. 2 doubles; Mike Walker and Nabeela Mohamed, at mixed doubles, also won handily.
The closest match came at No. 1 doubles, where Christian Tringali and Connor Bivens edged Mt. Hebron's Corey Wiggs and Anoosh Reddy, 8-6.
The Mustang boys are off to their best start in school history.
"I guess our team has just pulled together, our practices have been a lot tougher recently," Buch said. "We just focused on a lot of things specifically geared toward our matches so once we get out here we just know exactly what we're doing and we've just been playing a lot better ... we have a pretty deep team."
Marriotts Ridge will play Atholton again on May 5 in a match that could swing the county title race.
"Atholton's boys are really strong, and River Hill's boys are pretty strong, too. We've got this circle, we beat River Hill, River Hill beat Atholton, and Atholton beat us, so all three of those teams have one loss," Dingman said. "We've got both doubles teams back. Cade's back again this year and he worked really hard in the offseason.
"We still have a tough schedule here, five more matches, but it's definitely a promising start."
Boys: Marriotts Ridge 5, Mt. Hebron 0
No. 1 singles: Cade Buch (MR) def. Collin Chase (MH), 8-1.
No. 2 singles: Daniel Lee (MR) def. Ajay Chatim (MH), 8-0.
No. 1 doubles: Christian Tringali and Connor Bivens (MR) def. Corey Wiggs and Anoosh Reddy (MH), 8-6.
No. 2 doubles: Ben Klawson and Jack Weymer (MR) def. Will Chanmugam and Timmy Packard (MH), 8-0.
Mixed doubles: Mike Walker and Nabeela Mohamed (MR) def. Cameron Allotey and Stephanie Carroll (MH), 8-2.
Girls: Marriotts Ridge 3, Mt. Hebron 2
No. 1 singles: Alana Ravasio (MR) def. Priya Emani (MH), 8-4.
No. 2 singles: Anna Kuligowski (MR) def. Ronnie Nitkin (MH), 9-7.
No. 1 doubles: Abby Thorton and Anna Xi (MR) def. Kiran Pant and Serene Mathew (MH), 8-4.
No. 2 doubles: Mallory Baldwin and Hannah Kang (MH) def. Kirsten Wach and Preeti Bairi (MR), 8-5.
Mixed doubles: Tess Weber and Rohil Bahri (MH) def. Chris Choi and Mifra Baqai (MR), 8-5.
Around the league
Atholton 4, Oakland Mills 1
Glenelg 4, Long Reach 1
Howard 3, Hammond 2
Reservoir 4, Wilde Lake 1
River Hill 4, Centennial 1
Atholton 4, Oakland Mills 1
Glenelg 4, Long Reach 1
Howard 5, Hammond 0
Wilde Lake 4, Reservoir 1