Standing beside the clubhouse at the Wilde Lake Tennis Club Saturday afternoon, Mt. Hebron’s Trinetra Vijayakumar and the Centennial pair of Rose Huang and Michelle Fradlin took turns accepting their 3A state championship medals and posing for pictures with family and friends.
Their work for the day was done, but in between the celebrating, they couldn’t help but stop and watch what was taking place on the nearby court as two of their Howard County brethren tried to join them and in the process do something that had never been done before.
Reservoir’s boys team of Joshua Cai and Yari Armand had a larger than usual crowd on hand to witness the end of their lengthy doubles championship match and fed off the cheers to outlast Urbana’s Javin Ahuja and Rahul Harish in a third-set tie break (6-4, 2-6, 1-0 [11-9]). The victory gave Howard County its third crown of the day, marking the most state titles won in a single season in county history.
Vijayakumar continued her postseason dominance at 3A girls singles, cruising past C. Milton Wright’s Frances Ceballos (6-1, 6-0). Centennial teammates Rose Huang and Michelle Fradlin rolled as well at 3A girls doubles 6-1, 6-3 over C. Milton Wright’s Caroline Galant and Emily Moaddel.
Howard County previously had two state champions in the 2001, 2013 and 2019 seasons.
3A boys doubles
Having won three-set tiebreakers in both the region semifinals and region finals, Armand and Cai said they were unfazed by the prospect of doing the same once again with a state championship on the line. If anything, Armand welcomed it.
“I think we just immediately put that second set behind us because it didn’t mean much. It was basically a new match at that point,” Armand said. “And knowing the success we have had before in the tiebreak, I just kind of felt like this is what we wanted. This is when we are at our best.”
Reservoir had won the first set of the title match 6-4 before a brief rainstorm forced a 20-minute delay. When the two teams returned to the court, Urbana stole the momentum and eventually the second set by a score of 6-2.
Ahuja and Harish were in control early on in the tiebreak as well, leading 7-5. But with their backs against the wall, Armand and Cai answered to win three points in a row. Eventually, on an overhand smash at the net by Armand, they put away the match 11-9.
“I’m the kind of player that tries to keep my emotions in check during the match, but I was so happy in that moment. Watching that high ball come and him smashing it in, it was just incredible,” Cai said. “I thought we did a great job playing through a lot, sticking to what we do and letting the other team make mistakes.”
Ironically, the state championship pairing nearly never happened.
Cai was one of the county’s top singles players during the regular season — losing just once — and Armand was originally slated to play doubles with Trivikram Battalapalli in the region tournament. But a schedule conflict left Armand in need of a partner, and coach Carole Ferrante thought Cai would be a perfect fit.
Starting with a region quarterfinal win over Long Reach and ending with Saturday’s finale, Ferrante’s intuition proved correct time and time again.
“Josh was hesitant at the start because he was planning to play singles, but he quickly came around to it and we were starting to play well together by that first match [at regionals],” Armand said. “Then every match after that, starting with beating River Hill, our confidence kept growing in each other.”
3A girls singles
Coming into Saturday’s final against CMW’s Ceballos, Vijayakumar hadn’t dropped a single game in her five matches through the region and state bracket. So it would have been only natural for the Vikings’ freshman to have a moment of doubt after dropping a game early in the championship.
Yet Vijayakumar never waivered and actually seemed to use the brief setback to her advantage.
She rolled the rest of the way to the title in her debut season.
“If anything, I actually think the pressure was taken off after I lost that game. I think there was almost a feeling internally where I felt like I needed to win all the games, so losing one allowed me to just relax and focus on having fun,” Vijayakumar said.
Vijayakumar’s hard groundstrokes kept Ceballos on the defensive all morning, forcing the Mustangs sophomore to consistently play off her back foot.
“I went into the match with an aggressive mindset and that is my usual style of tennis,” Vijayakumar said. “I can play defense … but I prefer to use my aggressiveness to my advantage and force them to have to make adjustments.”
The championship victory wrapped up an undefeated freshman season for Vijayakumar that saw her drop only four games between eight regular-season matches and six postseason competitions.
She is the first girls singles champion from Howard County since Atholton’s Irene Lu in 2013.
3A girls doubles
For the majority of the year, Huang, a junior, and Fradlin, a freshman, served as the top two singles players for Centennial. Before the end of the regular season, however, the decision was made that the two were going to team up for the region tournament and in order to get some experience they played together against Howard.
That match ended in a loss.
“It was our first doubles match together, so something was just a little bit off. But I don’t think either of us were worried,” Huang said. “I think we saw enough that we were confident the chemistry was going to come quick and once we got a match or two at regions we were going to be fine.”
Fradlin said that she saw the gradual improvement every time they played together.
“It was really just figuring out how we molded together to make a good doubles team and by the time we got to the region final we were playing well,” she said. “That was a solid game [against River Hill] and we got confident after that.”
In the state championship match Saturday, Centennial was in control most of the way. But Huang said they never looked too far ahead and tried to do the same things that had gotten them to that point.
“We pumped each other up and played every single point as if this match was 50-50,” Huang said. “We never felt like we were better than anyone else and played through to the end.”
3A boys singles
Bel Air’s Vivekraj Harinarayan, who finished as a state semifinalist in 2019, returned this year as a senior and left little doubt on his way to the title. After defeating Chesapeake’s Joshua Colangelo in the semifinals (6-0, 6-0), Harinarayan handed River Hill’s Alex Artazov his first loss of the season in the championship match by a score of 6-1, 6-0.