The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Without much hesitation, county golf coaches appear to once again be coming to the same conclusion heading into this fall — everything goes through the Marriotts Ridge boys and Howard girls.
Both squads certainly have the pedigree to back up such claims. Howard has won back-to-back girls county titles and Marriotts Ridge has won three straight on the boys side, only upstaged by the program's four consecutive 1A/2A state crowns.
In fact, with three starters back in the fold — Jackson Courtney (2015 Howard County Player of the Year), Nick Mejia and John Szymanski — the Mustangs are chasing a little state history as well this season. Should the team win its fifth straight state championship this fall, Marriotts Ridge would join Winston Churchill (2002-2006) as the only schools in Maryland golf history to accomplish the feat. No program has ever won six in a row.
"It's reached a point now where these kids take a lot of pride in what the teams before them have done and getting the program to this point … they don't want to let their teammates or anyone else down," said Marriotts Ridge coach Mark Dubbs. "You see it in the work they put in during the offseason. They aren't just working for themselves out there and that intensity goes a long way."
Marriotts Ridge does face the tall task of replacing four-time first-team all-county performer Bennett Buch, but the reinforcements appear more than capable of helping shoulder some of the load. David Polefrone, for example, was the team's fifth player much of last season and still ended up finishing in a tie for second at the county championship tournament.
"Our program has come such a long way, particularly in terms of depth. Honestly, our practices have become as intense as some of our matches because they are all out there pushing one another," Dubbs said.
While the Mustangs are the frontrunners on the boys side, they certainly will not have an easy stroll to the title. Both Glenelg and River Hill are top three teams from a season ago that return their entire starting line-ups.
Derek Gold, the defending county champion individually, will be the leader for the Hawks and Hayden Mikk, who made second team all-county in 2015, will lead the Gladiators. Also keep an eye on Mt. Hebron, which brings back three guys that finished in the top 25 individually at the county tournament last fall.
And yet after Marriotts Ridge beat all three teams by 15 or more points a season ago, the task still appears to be a tall one.
"I think you still have to put Marriotts Ridge head and shoulders above everybody else right now. They return such a deep line-up," Glenelg coach Chris Beil said. "Sure, no one's unbeatable and River Hill has a shot considering they play them the first match of the year, but it's going to take a big number."
Individually, a new face to watch is Atholton freshman Brandon Nguyen. He's the younger brother of four-time Howard County girls Golfer of the Year Bryana Nguyen and has the potential to immediately be a team leader.
On the girls side, the gap between Howard and the field appears to be a little larger. The Lions return their top three players from the last two seasons — Jacqueline Cherry, Alex Abrams and Harper Lurie — and all were all-county performers in 2015. On top of that, the team adds a potential standout in freshman Logan Lurie, who is Harper's younger sister.
"We are certainly excited. The girls have put in some serious effort over the summer, going to tournaments all over the country," said Howard coach Joshua McGoun, who had nine girls at tryouts after fielding a three-player team for the majority of the last two years. "I can say with confidence this is the strongest girls team the program has ever had."
Cherry in particular is one to keep an eye on after she finished second at the county and district tournaments last fall as a sophomore to go along with a top-five finish at states.
Elsewhere, the rest of the county's girls programs were hit extremely hard by graduation. Marriotts Ridge and Wilde Lake shared last year's regular season county championship with Howard with 10-1 records, but both squads lost their lone first-team all-county performers. The Wildecats graduated three of their top four scorers from 2015.
In fact, the only other returning first-team all-county player other than Cherry is Centennial junior Isabel Trojillo. She placed fourth individually at last year's county championship tournament and was top six in the county during the regular season in scoring average (16.9). Cherry led the county with a scoring average of 25.8.
As has been the case for several years now, the golf regular season kicks off far earlier than the other Howard County fall sports. The scheduled opening day of Aug. 18 is just eight days after the first day teams are allowed to open tryouts (Aug. 10).
Things have been extra complicated this fall, however, with excessive heat forcing all interscholastic activities to shut down on four different occasions during the opening week. Several programs lost those days of tryouts, extending the process of determining who will compete in opening matches.
"It's definitely pushed things back, and for us, we have a pretty tight middle group, so we really won't know who will be playing in those last few spots until a day or two before matches start," said Centennial coach Stephen Lee. "It was unfortunate because we were just about to get on the course (Aug. 11) and then we got the text about the Code Red. I know Atholton and Wilde Lake were already out there and got pulled off the course."
Centennial is scheduled to face Howard at Waverly Woods in that first match of the year, which features a head-to-head showdown between top girls players Cherry and Trojillo. On the boys side, River Hill against Marriotts Ridge at Hobbit's Glen is the top match of opening day.
Change of Venue
For the first time since 2007, Anne Arundel County will host the District V Championships. The tournament, scheduled this year for Oct. 11 at Crofton Country Club, had been held at Fairway Hills Golf Club in Columbia the last eight years.
Back in 2007, the District Championships were held at Eisenhower Golf Club in Crownsville.
"We've had it here (in Howard County) for so many years in a row now, it was probably time to switch it up. Ideally, I would think it would be something we would alternate hosting each year," said Oakland Mills coach Jon Browne, who has been handling the scoring for the District V event for several years. "Sure, playing an unfamiliar course is a little different for the kids, but I would expect the best players to be pretty much unaffected."
Several teams will get the opportunity to play Crofton in a match setting during the regular season. The tri-match between Marriotts Ridge, Centennial and Atholton on Aug. 30 will be played there, as will the match between Glenelg and Oakland Mills on Sept. 7.
It will mark the first time since golf became an official varsity sport in 2005 that county teams will compete against one another during the regular season on a course outside Howard County.
In terms of the other postseason events, Hobbit's Glen will once again host the county championship tournament (Sept. 27) and the University of Maryland Golf Course will host the state championships (Oct. 24-26).
On the tee
Heading into the season, here is a snapshot look at the players to watch around the county:
2015 boys record: 4-7; 2015 girls: 2-9
Coach: Dave Appleby
Top boys: Junior Pat Grimsley and freshman Brandon Nguyen.
Top girls: Senior Lucy Beldon and freshman Shelby Lechner.
2015 boys: 5-6; 2015 girls: 7-4
Coach: Stephen Lee
Top boys: Senior Greg Sterenberg and sophomore Kenneth Chaplain.
Top girl: Junior Isabelle Trojillo.
2015 boys: 10-1; 2015 girls: 5-6
Coach: Chris Beil
Top boys: Seniors Richie Abruscato, John McAuliffe and Hayden Mikk; juniors Michael Forester and Brandon Writt.
Top girl: Sophomore Alex Stone.
2015 boys: 2-9; 2015 girls: 0-10-1
Coach: Scott Osborne
Top boys: Seniors Patrick McDonald and Joseph Sarich.
Top girls: N/A.
2015 boys: 5-6; 2015 girls: 10-1
Coach: Joshua McGoun
Top boys: Juniors Shashank Gupta and Brett Pool; freshman Jarrett Maynor.
Top girls: Senior Harper Lurie; juniors Alex Abrams and Jacqueline Cherry; freshman Logan Lurie.
2015 boys: 1-10; 2015 girls: 6-5
Coach: William Flick
Top boys: Junior David Lewis and sophomore Omar Hussain.
Top girl: Junior Kiana Williams.
2015 boys: 11-0; 2015 girls: 10-1
Coach: Mark Dubbs
Top boys: Seniors Jackson Courtney, Nick Mejia, David Polefrone and John Szymanski.
Top girls: Senior Meg Quinn and freshman Faith McIlvain.
2015 boys: 8-3; 2015 girls: 6-5
Coach: Don Walters
Top boys: Senior Liam Hall; junior Lake Lloyd; sophomore Ryan Jung.
Top girl: Sophomore Isabelle Rathbun.
2015 boys: 0-11; 2015 girls: 0-10-1
Coach: Jon Browne
Top boys: Senior Chris Clyde; junior Phillip Carroll; sophomore Adam Fairbanks.
Top girl: Junior Kelly Claxton.
2015 boys: 7-4; 2015 girls: 5-6
Coach: Sarah Ragusa
Top boys: Senior Sam Gigioli and Max Goron; freshman Trace Teodori.
Top girl: Sophomore Megan Smith.
2015 boys: 9-2; 2015 girls: 4-7
Coach: Matt Graves
Top boys: Seniors Jacob Burman and Derek Gold; junior Josh Mann; sophomore Kevin Hickey.
Top girls: Senior Abby Green and junior Lauren Berg.
2015 boys: 4-7; 2015 girls: 10-1
Coach: Chris Faries
Top boys: Seniors Garrett Swanson and Alex Wilson; junior Andrew Tiffey; sophomore Eric Schneider.
Latest Howard County Sports
Top girls: Seniors Cameryn Battle and Maddie Ho; junior Lee Lee Sands.