It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.
It was the Marriotts Ridge tennis team’s mantra all season long, and it was never more fitting than on Saturday at the MPSSAA state tennis championships at Wilde Lake Tennis Club.
The Mustangs’ girls’ top-seeded doubles team of senior Abby Thornton and sophomore Veronica Cuellar had their backs against the wall and trailed Walt Whitman’s Carina Greenberg and Sarinah Wahl, 5-2, in the second set of the state championship match.
But the finish was all that mattered.
The Mustangs duo rallied to win the next four games, and in the tiebreak trailed 4-0 before rallying once again to win seven of the next eight points and capture the program’s first-ever state championship in any tennis event, 6-4, 7-6 (7-5).
“It means so much to me because it’s my senior year and I’ve gotten third, fourth and to the quarterfinals [in singles] before, so actually winning it is amazing,” said Thornton, a two-time Howard County girls tennis Player of the Year and three-time county singles champion. “Veronica has helped me so much and we’re actually best friends, so we work really well on the court. She killed it out there. I say she carried the team.”
Said Cuellar: “This is incredible. I know she wanted it so bad and I wanted it so bad, too. It’s just amazing.”
Mt. Hebron’s mixed doubles team of senior Tess Weber and Michael Kimack, seeded second, reached the championship match but fell to the No. 1 seeded team of Anne Radeviciute and Ethan Kowalski from Walter Johnson.
But the Marriotts Ridge girls headlined the day as Howard County’s first state champions since River Hill’s Prateek Swamykumar and Nicholas Zhu won the boys doubles title in 2014. They are also just the fourth-ever county girls’ doubles team to win the championship and first since River Hill’s Kristin Manglitz and Devon Humphries won in 2000.
Mustangs coach Scott Dingman said the conversation about putting Thornton and Cuellar, who placed fourth at last year’s county championships in mixed doubles, together started immediately after the state tournament a year ago.
It’s safe to say the transition worked seamlessly, as the pair never dropped a set and lost only five games in 10 postseason matches before the state final.
“I felt really confident with the two of them last year, obviously knowing how good Abby is, that if they wanted to play doubles together they would have a pretty good shot at doing it,” Dingman said. “... I think this showed their resiliency. They just kept hanging in there, kept fighting and they, in my mind, didn’t look nervous at all. They made a couple mistakes but it they didn’t let it beat them up too much and they kept firing back and had that drive and that will to stay with it.”
Weber and Kimack, meanwhile, knocked off Fallston’s Kaylee Phillips and Chris Tran, 6-4, 6-3, in the first round, Bowie’s Cooper Mazei and Jennifer Moeder, 6-2, 6-1, in the quarterfinals, and Wootton’s Gabriella Glueck and Benjamin Fellman, 7-5, 6-4, to reach the final.
They were overmatched there, though, as Radeviciute and Kowalski won the title with a 6-1, 6-1 victory.
“I’ve been looking forward to this since my freshman year when I watched the state championship as an alternate, but it was exciting to be here,” said Weber, who placed third in mixed doubles last year with Rohil Bahri as her teammate. “They are an amazing team in general. ... Their team chemistry was amazing on the court.”
The rest of the county participants didn’t fare as well and were knocked out of the competition on Friday.
Glenelg’s boys’ doubles team of Shawn Witschen and Reece Maiden were seeded third and won their opening round match against Parkside’s Ryan Shriver and Connor Houtman, 6-2, 6-1, but the county and regional champions dropped their quarterfinal to Whitman’s Jack Welch and Andrew Leung, 6-2, 6-3.
Centennial’s William Liu and Peter Ho, the county and regional runners-up, lost their opening-round match to No. 1 seed William Karpinski and Michael Chen of Churchill, 6-2, 6-0.
In boys’ singles, Centennial’s county and regional champion Ram Kotnana was trailing Hereford’s Adrian Charchalis, 6-3, 4-1, before retiring his first-round match.
River Hill county and regional runner-up Prateek Swamykumar beat C. Milton Wright’s Sean Fleming, 6-2, 6-3, but lost in the quarterfinals to Broadneck’s Finn Garner, 6-0, 6-1.
The Hawks’ regional runner-up duo of Ashley Wang and Maanasa Gurram beat Hereford’s Jessica Rudy and Emma Wallner, 6-1, 4-6, 6-3, in the first round of girls’ doubles but fell to Liberty’s Emily Brecker and Noelle Htwar in the quarterfinals.
River Hill county and regional champion Anna Artasova won a tight three-set match against Severna Park’s Miriam Moghtader, 6-3, 1-6, 6-4, but lost in the girls’ singles quarterfinals to Kent Island’s Catrina Coyner, 6-4, 6-3.
Long Reach county and regional finalist Snigdha Puram lost her first girls’ singles match to Brooke Santoriello of Patterson Mill, 7-6 (7-1), 6-1.