Mark Dubbs has seen enough during the last decade, while serving as head varsity golf coach at Marriotts Ridge, to know that the road ahead is a treacherous one.
The seven-time defending state-champion Mustangs are on the move this fall, bumping up — along with fellow Howard County teams Hammond and River Hill — from the 1A/2A classification to 3A/4A. With it comes tougher competition and uncharted territory.
But as much as Marriotts Ridge’s state-record run of dominance could potentially be in jeopardy, Dubbs is adamant when he says this year’s team is capable of rising to the challenge.
“The group of players this fall that I consider to be my state team, they have a really good grasp on what it takes to reach that championship level of play. And there’s no substitute for experience when it comes to those postseason tournaments,” Dubbs said. “We may not be as deep as we have been in previous seasons, but the talent is there and so is that mentality of being state champions, regardless of classification, until someone officially knocks us off.”
There’s plenty of talent back in the fold for the Mustangs, including both the boys and girls individual county champions. Justin Allen won his first postseason title in a playoff last fall as a sophomore, while Faith McIlvain swept her way through the postseason en route to earning Player of the Year honors.
First-team All-County performer Akash Marakath is also back in the fold. Throw in a few other returners with experience and the pieces are certainly there for another run.
McIlvain thinks the key is letting the change in competition serve more as a motivator instead of a burden.
“I think having pressure will push us and motivate us to do better this year … to work harder,” she said. “Since 3A/4A is more competitive, it’s definitely going to be harder for sure. But as long as we put in the hard work and support one another through everything, I think we will have a pretty good chance.”
There’s no doubt Marriotts Ridge will need to be at its best, especially considering only once during its state-championship run did the team outscore the 3A/4A champion — finishing 19 strokes clear of the larger-school champion Thomas S. Wootton in 2013. Three other times the Mustangs’ total has been within single digits of the 3A/4A winner, including finishing nine behind 3A/4A champion Urbana last fall.
In truth, though, some of the toughest competition for the Mustangs this fall may come from right in the team’s own backyard. The boys squad has now won 66 straight regular-season matches against county competition, but the gap is closing.
Just last year, Marriotts Ridge beat River Hill by a single point and Reservoir by only five.
“These guys, they are very much aware of the improved competition. They know the scores from last year, even the scores from the other team’s tryouts this year, and it’s no secret that the target on our back only gets bigger each season,” Dubbs said. “Nothing gets handed to you.”
River Hill, coming off the best season in program history, is once again among the top challengers to the throne. The Hawks have finished second in the county standings two straight seasons and last year finished second as a team in the 1A/2A classification at states behind Marriotts Ridge
Player of the Year Kevin Hickey has graduated, but the other three starters from last year’s state runner-up squad — Cam Deiuliis, Jackson Graves and Robbie Graham — are back. Graves says there’s a different feel this season after last year’s run.
“Last year gave us a ton of confidence, knowing that we can get to the second day of states. A lot of other teams put up way better scores during the season, more consistent scores, but we showed that we could do it postseason,” said Graves, a senior who tied for second with a 75 at the District V Championship tournament last fall.
River Hill’s last county championship came in 2008.
The Centennial boys, which went 9-2 last year, is in a lengthy title drought of its own — last claiming the county crown in 2007. But on paper, the Eagles may very well be as dangerous as anyone entering this fall.
Second-team All-County golfer Ty Sams returns to lead the way and he has plenty of help in the form of freshman phenom Dustin Stocksdale, who looks every bit like an immediate contender for the county’s individual title. Throw in an improved supporting cast headlined by senior Klaus Wood and coach Stephen Lee says expectations are as high as they’ve ever been during the last decade.
“We’re all excited about the potential of this team. If ever there were a year where we were going to finally break through and take that county title, this is it,” Lee said.
Looking deeper, watch out for Howard as a dark horse contender in the boys team race.
Individually, there are a few additional top-flight players to keep an eye on outside of the upper echelon teams. Glenelg junior Caleb Taylor won last year’s District V Championship title and was runner-up at the county tournament. Atholton senior Branden Nguyen, meanwhile, is a three-time first-team All-County selection that led the county in scoring average (25 points) during the regular season last fall.
As tightly packed as the boys golfers appear to be, the girls are far more top-heavy.
McIlvain is the player to beat, not only sweeping the postseason tournaments but also finishing with a scoring average of 27.2 points a match that was 10 points better than the next best player a season ago.
But there’s certainly talent elsewhere worth keeping tabs on. River Hill’s Adrienne Lesho, Howard’s Logan Lurie and Centennial’s Morgan Taylor are all seniors that made first-team All-County a season ago that could be poised to improve their scoring averages into the 20s.
Not surprisingly, the team-championship-race favorites include each of those teams with a star returning to lead the way. Centennial broke through to win last year’s title and Taylor provides a cornerstone to build around as the team looks to defend its championship.
But holding off McIlvain and Marriotts Ridge will be difficult, especially considering the team also is adding talented freshman Alana Alexander-Giles to its roster. The Mustangs last won a piece of the county title in 2015, a year before McIlvain arrived as a freshman, and it’s the only hardware she has yet to win.
“We’ve definitely had those discussions that our goal is a county title,” Dubbs said. “The great thing is that anytime you have a player like Faith, who is going to consistently shoot around par or better, it takes a lot of pressure off everyone else.”
The county season officially began on Tuesday, Aug. 27, with an intriguing match-up between Howard and Marriotts Ridge highlighting the day’s action. But, in general, the schedule is fairly back-loaded.
The tri-match between Centennial, Marriotts Ridge and River Hill on Sept. 24 at the Timbers at Troy is currently scheduled to wrap-up regular-season play. Just like last season, the coaches intentionally put that match last with the idea that it could very well determine the county championship for both the boys and girls.
This fall the District V Championship at Crofton Country Club on Oct. 8 precedes the county championship, which will be held a week later on Oct. 15 at Hobbit’s Glen. The season will then conclude with the state championships at the University of Maryland Oct. 28-30.
As the season gets set to begin, here is a snapshot look at some of the players to watch around the county:
2018 boys record: 8-3-0; 2018 girls: 1-10-0
Coach: Dave Appleby
Top boys: Seniors Nolan Chong and Branden Nguyen; freshman Camden Campbell.
Top girls: Junior Susie Jang; sophomore Saili Rahul Khorjekar.
2018 boys: 9-2-0; 2018 girls: 11-0-0
Coach: Stephen Lee
Top boys: Seniors Ty Sams and Klaus Wood; juniors Max Middleton and Conarie Steinbach; freshman Dustin Stocksdale.
Top girls: Senior Morgan Taylor; junior Sussie Park; freshman Erin Jeong.
2018 boys: 4-6-1; 2018 girls: 8-2-1
Coach: Chris Beil
Top boys: Juniors Roggen King and Caleb Taylor.
Top girls: Senior Morgan Ruddo; junior Ally Abruscato.
2018 boys: 0-11-0; 2018 girls: 5-6-0
Coach: Scott Osborne
Top boys: Seniors Cole Smith and Tim Stryker; junior Cal Hewitt; sophomores Justin Martin and Connor Walls.
Top girls: Senior Chinaza Ezeh; junior Ashleigh Louie.
2018 boys: 7-4-0; 2018 girls: 7-4-0
Coach: Joshua McGoun
Top boys: Seniors Shayan Kassiri and Jarrett Maynor; sophomores Gregory Hieger and Jai Sheth.
Top girls: Seniors Morgan Cooper and Logan Lurie.
2018 boys: 1-10-0; 2018 girls: 0-11-0
Coach: William Flick
Top boys: Senior Sammy Hussain and junior Ian Rullman.
Top girls: N/A.
2018 boys: 11-0-0; 2018 girls: 10-1-0
Coach: Mark Dubbs
Top boys: Senior Josh Lee; juniors Justin Allen and Akash Marakath; sophomore Daniel Tuma.
Top girls: Seniors Faith McIlvain and Sydney Bivens; freshman Alana Alexander-Giles.
2018 boys: 3-8-0; 2018 girls: 3-8-0
Coach: Don Walters
Top boys: Seniors Garrett Snyder and Jason Van Tine; sophomores Ethan and Tyler Kang.
Top girls: Seniors Christina Bodziak, Co-Tu Doan and Zoe Perna; sophomore Katie Katcheves.
2018 boys: 3-8-0; 2018 girls: 3-8-0
Coach: Jon Browne
Top boys: Senior Paul Lebert; sophomores Heath Franklin and Alex Tamai; freshman Luke Carlsen.
Top girls: Seniors Julia Chang and Ira Valeza; sophomore Emma Bailey; freshman Kylee Hoffman.
2018 boys: 5-6-0; 2018 girls: 5-6-0
Coach: Kyle Jacobs
Top boys: Senior Trace Teodori; junior John Welch; sophomore Justin Gutierrez.
Top girls: Junior Kate Abunassar.
2018 boys: 10-1-0; 2018 girls: 8-2-1
Coach: Matt Graves
Top boys: Seniors Cam Deiuliis and Jackson Graves; junior Robbie Graham; sophomore Colin Regan.
Top girls: Seniors Adrienne Lesho and Amy Zhao; sophomore Mohair Sandhu.
2018 boys: 4-6-1; 2018 girls: 4-7-0
Coach: Kourtney Harrison
Top boys: Junior Evan Schneider; freshman Henry Hilger.
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Top girls: Sophomore Clare Bowen; freshman Lindsey Sands.