Tim Brecker and Thiha Htwar usually brought their daughters with them when they got together to play tennis at Liberty High School, and the fathers spent time hitting the ball with the girls from time to time.
Emily Brecker and Noelle Htwar were having fun, and the dads took notice. There was more to it than that, however. Tim Brecker, the Lions’ longtime varsity tennis co-coach, and Thiha Htwar, a teaching pro at Coppermine Racquet & Fitness in Pikesville, saw their girls having success. The friends wondered what could be when their daughters reached high school.
“We saw that this is a really good team if they stick together. They could be something special,” Brecker said. “That’s kind of how it just evolved. You’ve seen how they have produced those results.”
The results, this spring, were quite impressive — Emily Brecker and Noelle Htwar put together an undefeated record as Liberty’s top girls doubles team and won county, regional, and state championships en route to earning Times Co-Player of the Year honors.
Brecker and Htwar went 21-0 and repeated as county champs before winning their first region crown at the Class 2A West tournament, then claimed the 2A state title by getting past River Hill’s Maanasa Gurram and Siri Jale 7-6 (7-3), 6-4 in the final May 25 at Wilde Lake Tennis Club in Columbia.
“Since freshman year, our goal has always been to make it to states,” Htwar said. “So that was our goal again this year. But we decided to be a bit more ambitious and say we wanted to win states this year.”
The Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association used state tournaments for each of its four classifications for the first time, so Brecker and Htwar knew the competition would be different this spring. Their mindset didn’t change, but they relied on their experience and preparation to stay sharp.
“Playing every day, always together, playing against people who were better than us,” Brecker said. “We just do everything we can to achieve our goals. We’ve always played very well together. We have a different game, but they fit very well. I can play consistently and Noelle can put it away.”
They’re a combination of finesse and power, Htwar’s big serve meshing with Brecker’s deft shot-making. Each player creates offense and plays good defense, Tim Brecker said, and he had no plans to split them up.
“When you’re looking at a doubles pair, you’re looking for that combination,” he said. “It’s like having a point guard and a [center] out there in basketball. I saw that early on.”
What’s more, the girls didn’t feel the need to play with anyone else.
They lost in the girls doubles finals at the county tourney as freshmen before placing fourth at states. Last spring, they won their first county championship, placed second at regionals, and went 1-1 at the state tournament. Determination was evident from the start of this season, they said, and success hinged on one thing.
“Communication was really the big thing this year that we worked on,” Htwar said. “I think that changed our whole game.”
That communication was on display in the 2A state final against Gurram and Jale. Brecker and Htwar weren’t playing with their usual efficiency, and Htwar struggled with her serve in the early going. River Hill led 4-1 in the first set, and again at 6-5. But Liberty forced a tiebreaker, and Htwar took comfort in Brecker’s encouraging words while settling down with her serve.
“It’s a complete game-changer,” Htwar said. “Sophomore, freshman year, we weren’t as good with communication. And we sometimes let each other fall. This year we were always there to support each other. We were trying to stay positive the whole time, because one you fall it’s really hard to get back up there.”
The Lions rallied in the second set to prevail, and Tim Brecker used the word “unflappable” to describe the duo’s performance. There were smiles and tears afterward, and a cluster of photos to take with family and friends.
Liberty had its first tennis state championship.
“They weren’t having the best of days, but they found a way to win,” Brecker said. “That’s what really good teams do.”
Htwar wants to play tennis in college. So does her doubles partner and friend. So they’re planning to stay sharp over the summer and use that as motivation for next year.
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“As much as we achieved our goals,” Emily Brecker said, “there’s still more to achieve.”