This is the week Emily Brecker and Noelle Htwar planned on using to prepare their girls doubles regional championship defense.
The Liberty High School seniors would have gone after a third consecutive county title last Saturday, and hoped to roll into the state tournament next weekend as reigning champs.
The coronavirus pandemic thwarted those plans, and instead Brecker and Htwar are left without a senior tennis season instead of trying to claim county, regional, and state championships once more.
The Lions tandem went 21-0 last spring without dropping a set all season, and shared Times Girls Tennis Player of the Year honors. They rallied to beat River Hill’s Maanasa Gurram and Siri Jale 7-6 (7-3), 6-4 in the Class 2A final, May 25, 2019 at Wilde Lake Tennis Club in Columbia.
Liberty’s girls earned the first tennis state championship in school history. Brecker and Htwar talked after last season about building off their undefeated junior year, but that idea never got a chance to materialize.
“I think we saw it coming,” Htwar said about schools closing and spring high school sports being canceled. “I had a little bit of hope, but I think we all knew that this was going to happen.”
Added Brecker: “It’s definitely sad. Noelle and I wanted a chance to repeat what we did last year, and hopefully win states again. We also had a really good team, and I’m sad we don’t get to play with them. But we’re just trying to look forward.”
Brecker and Htwar led Liberty’s girls during the regular season to their 11th consecutive county championship, and the Lions extended their winning streak to 75 matches in a row. Liberty also won a regional team title, and took fourth at states.
They lost in the girls doubles finals at the county tourney as freshmen before placing fourth at states. In 2018 they won their first county championship, placed second at regionals, and went 1-1 at the state tourney.
Last spring, Brecker and Htwar reached the 2A state final with plenty of momentum, but faced a turning point early in the match.
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, then rallied again in the second set (River Hill led 2-0) to come away with the title.
Brecker and Htwar are 68-6 in their three seasons together, but their partnership on the court has ended.
Brecker is headed to Misericordia University with plans to play college tennis, while Htwar is bound for Millersville to extend her playing career.
The pair said they’ve been hitting together and with other teammates throughout the spring to stay sharp. Htwar said having her dad, Thiha Htwar, a teaching pro at Coppermine Racquet & Fitness in Pikesville, around more to practice with has helped her game as well.
“This is actually benefiting me, having this time with him compared to having a regular season,” Noelle Htwar said. “I think it’s helping me more with my skills.”
Brecker and Htwar both said they’ll need those skills fine-tuned to get ready for college tennis. Brecker said she has met with Misericordia’s coaches and players, which should help her make the transition from high school play. Plus, she said she looks forward to getting a chance for a Liberty reunion ― the Cougars’ most recent roster featured sophomore Allie Woodward, one of Brecker’s former Lions teammates.
Not being able to finish their high school careers together hasn’t been easy, the girls said. But knowing they put together one of the best spring seasons in Liberty tennis history keeps their 2020 disappointment to a minimum.