Change is not something that typically happens overnight.
Although, for the Howard girls golf program, it might feel like it did on one quiet August day in 2014.
It was then — during a first day of tryouts that brought the arrival of freshmen Jacqueline Cherry and Alex Abrams — that the Lions' dynasty officially began. A team that had never won more than six matches during its previous four years suddenly had a pair of budding superstars ready to push it over the top.
Fast forward to this fall, as that duo prepares to begin their senior campaigns, Howard has become arguably the best girls golf program the county has ever seen. Cherry and Abrams have been all-county regulars, including a Player of the Year award last fall for Cherry as a junior. And with them leading the charge, to go along with the consistent standout play of the recently graduated Harper Lurie and her younger sister Logan, the Lions roll into this year having won three straight county titles.
"Harper started it, but there's no doubt that Jackie and Alex were the ones that turned us into a championship program. Suddenly we had three girls that were making golf their priority instead of it being their second of third sport," Howard coach Joshua McGoun said. "Now, it's hard to remember a time when it wasn't like this. It's just a really positive environment and I guess you could say we've kind of let the good times roll from season to season."
Since Cherry and Abrams joined the team, Howard has lost just one match — a 58-57 defeat at the hands of Wilde Lake in 2015. In some ways, the Lions have raised the bar so high that they're often competing against themselves as much as they are the competition.
"The mentality has definitely changed since my freshman year. I mean, back then there were literally no expectations. Now, we seem to be getting better every year and setting more and more personal and team records," said Cherry, who was the team's leading scorer when it scored a program-record 82 points in the regular season finale against River Hill last fall. "But we are still having fun and pushing one another to do our best, which I think is the most important thing."
This season, Howard will once again be eyeing both a title and the record books. The Lions have the potential to be the first county girls team to win four straight county titles.
Cherry individually is looking to build on last year's Player of the Year campaign that saw her win county and district tournament titles before losing in a playoff at the state-championship tournament. She says she's added some distance off the tee and is playing well as the season gets underway.
"I struggled a little bit over the winter as I went through a swing change, but now I'm feeling really good and playing well. I've got several goals for this year, with winning at states definitely at the top," Cherry said.
While the list of team contenders on the girls side isn't a long list, Howard should see at least some competition along the way.
Centennial is right there at the top of the list of contenders. The Eagles bring back their top four players from last year's team that went 10-1, including first-team all-county player Isabel Trojillo. Trojillo was third in the county as a junior with a scoring average of 19.4 points a match and ended her year with a 12th place finish at the state tournament.
"I played in bigger tournaments this year and was able to win some awards, and I really think that will give me confidence coming into this season," Trojillo said. "As for [the team], all of the returners have improved. They've worked hard during the off season and I look forward to the season ahead."
Individually, to go along with Cherry, Abrams and Trojillo, there are also returning first-team all-county players back at Marriotts Ridge and Wilde Lake. Sophomore Faith McIlvain will be a leader for the Mustangs after finishing alone in second at last year's county tournament and senior Lee Lee Sands will be the team leader for the Wildecats.
On the boys side, it's Marriotts Ridge that everyone is looking to unseat. The Mustangs have established their own dynasty in recent years, having won four straight county titles and a record-tying five straight state championships.
To continue the streak, though, Marriotts Ridge will be leaning on a large contingent of new faces. It's the first time since the streak began that the Mustangs don't return a single first-team all-county player.
"It's certainly going to be a little different, but we've still got a good bit of talent. The question is now just how do these guys respond to the pressure situations, because that's what our guys from the last few years were so good at," said coach Mark Dubbs. "But we had a parent and player meeting last week where the guys talked about how they don't want the streak to end on their watch. They have all put in a lot of time this summer to try and prepare themselves for what's ahead."
Seniors Alex Pak and David Stephens were each part of Marriotts Ridge's District V Championship squad last fall on the way to earning second-team all-county honors. Both will be asked to be leaders this year. Also back in the fold is junior Isaac Kim, who averaged more than 20 points a match during the regular season and tied for 11th at the county championship tournament.
It's because of that returning experience, even with the graduation of senior stars Jackson Courtney (two-time Player of the Year), Nick Mejia and John Szymanski, that coaches around the county say the Mustangs are probably the team to beat once again.
"They are an extremely well-coached team … and they still have talent. They may be down, but I still think they are the top team in the county," Glenelg coach Chris Beil said. "[With us] returning three seniors, though, and having an incoming freshman, I would like to see us give them a run this year. But, once again, everyone shoots for the top team, whatever sport it is."
That solid core of seniors — Michael Forester, Tony Mobley and Brandon Writt — to go along with talented freshman Caleb Taylor, certainly does make Glenelg a force to be reckoned with.
The Gladiators, along with Howard, finished tied for third in last year's final county standings at 8-3. The Lions, with the return of senior Shashank Gupta, figure to be in the mix for a top spot once again as well.
The biggest threat to Marriotts Ridge's reign, though, may be River Hill. The Hawks went 10-1 last fall and bring back two starters from that group in Kevin Hickey and Josh Mann.
But what makes River Hill so dangerous this year is the team's depth. There are three other returners on the roster — Cameron DeLulis, Jackson Graves and Will Reid — that don't have a ton of match experience but have shown the potential to score consistently around 20 points a match through practices.
"With the top four that we had last year, those three never quite qualified to play in a match. They were always a stroke or two away, but they've put in a ton of work, played in a lot of tournaments over the summer and I think they're excited to get a chance to prove what they are capable of," Graves said. "This may be the deepest team I've ever had, and that's saying something."
Other boys individuals to keep an eye on are returning all-county performers Branden Nguyen of Atholton, Kenneth Chaplain of Centennial and Lake Lloyd from Mt. Hebron. All three were among the top 20 scorers in the county last year with averages of at least 18.8 points a match.
Nguyen in particular could be in for a special sophomore campaign on the heels of a rookie season that featured a scoring average of 22.3 points a match.
As for sleeper candidates, Oakland Mills' junior Adam Fairbanks has a ton of potential after finishing in the top 10 at last year's county championship tournament.
The first official matches will be played on Aug. 17 and right off the bat Marriotts Ridge and River Hill will square off in what could end up being one of the biggest showdowns of the season.
By the end of August, before any other high school sports teams will play a single official game, nearly every golf team will have played four matches.
The county championship tournament is scheduled for Sept. 26 at Hobbit's Glen and there have been some adjustments to both the format and field. This year, the tournament will be played as a stroke play event, as opposed to the stableford scoring system that has been used in previous years and is still in place for regular-season matches.
The scoring now mirrors what is used at both the District V championship tournament, which is scheduled for Oct. 9 at Crofton Country Club, and the state championship tournament, which is scheduled for Oct. 23-25 at the University of Maryland golf course.
Additionally the score needed to qualify for the county tournament has been raised for both the boys and the girls. Boys individuals will now need to have at least a total of 60 points from their top three regular season matches, up from 54 in 2016, and the girls will need to have a three-match total of 40 points, up from 39.
"Both changes were voted on by the coaches and I think they both make a lot of sense," Graves said. "The scoring change for the county tournament now better prepares these players for districts and beyond, where there is no maximum score. And the higher qualifying score just means that the individuals who do qualify will truly be the best of the best. Since we've moved away from the county tournament being a team competition, this was a logical next step in my mind."
With less players likely to be in the field at the county tournament this fall, there will not be a cut after nine holes like there was last season.
The classifications have also changed for the District V tournament, with Glenelg, Hammond, Marriotts Ridge, Oakland Mills, River Hill and Wilde Lake now in 2A-1A. Atholton, Centennial, Howard, Long Reach, Mt. Hebron and Reservoir will remain in 4A-3A.
As the season gets set to begin, here is a snapshot look around the county:
2016 boys record: 5-5-1; 2016 girls: 5-6
Coach: Dave Appleby
Top boys: Senior Pat Grimsley; junior Ben Dotson; sophomores Nolan Chong and Branden Nguyen.
Top girls: N/A.
2016 boys: 7-3-1; 2016 girls: 10-1
Coach: Stephen Lee
Top boys: Senior Jake Watson; junior Kenneth Chaplain; sophomores Takumi Fukuzawa and Ty Sams.
Top girls: Senior Isabel Trojillo; juniors Megumi Fukuzawa and Joanna Park; sophomore Morgan Taylor.
2016 boys: 8-3; 2016 girls: 7-4
Coach: Chris Beil
Top boys: Seniors Michael Forester, Tony Mobley and Brandon Writt; freshman Caleb Taylor.
Top girls: Junior Alex Stone and sophomore Morgan Ruddo.
2016 boys: 2-8-1; 2016 girls: 2-9
Coach: Scott Osborne
Top boys: Junior Aidan Witt; sophomore Ryan Gaffere; freshman Cal Hewitt.
Top girls: Senior Ina O'Ryan; junior Shreya Tuckley; freshman Ashleigh Louie.
2016 boys: 8-3; 2016 girls: 11-0
Coach: Joshua McGoun
Top boys: Seniors Aaron Goldberg, Shashank Gupta, Brady McLamb and Brett Pool; junior Jason Wheeler; sophomore Jarrett Maynor.
Top girls: Seniors Alex Abrams and Jacqueline Cherry; sophomore Logan Lurie.
2016 boys: 1-10; 2016 girls: 0-11
Coach: William Flick
Top boys: Senior David Lewis; junior Omar Hussain.
Top girls: N/A.
2016 boys: 11-0; 2016 girls: 9-2
Coach: Mark Dubbs
Top boys: Seniors David Stephens and Alex Pak; junior Isaac Kim.
Top girls: Junior Julianna Dorsch; sophomore Faith McIlvain.
2016 boys: 5-6; 2016 girls: 4-7
Coach: Don Walters
Top boys: Senior Lake Lloyd; juniors Ryan Jung and Jacob Krell; sophomore Sung Kim.
Top girls: Senior Libby Milano.
2016 boys: 1-10; 2016 girls: 2-8-1
Coach: Jon Browne
Top boys: Senior Phillip Carroll and junior Adam Fairbanks.
Top girls: Senior Kelly Claxton; juniors Kayla Compson and Rachel Luthardt.
2016 boys: 4-7; 2016 girls: 1-9-1
Coach: Sarah Ragusa
Top boys: Senior Tyler Welsh; junior Rocco Panza; sophomore Trace Teodori; freshman John Welch.
Top girls: Freshman Jasmine Skedsvold.
2016 boys: 10-1; 2016 girls: 8-3
Coach: Matt Graves
Top boys: Seniors Josh Mann and Will Reid; junior Kevin Hickey; sophomores Cameron DeLulis and Jackson Graves.
Top girls: Senior Lauren Berg; sophomore Adrienne Lesho.
2016 boys: 2-8-1; 2016 girls: 6-5
Coach: Chris Faries
Top boys: Senior Andrew Tiffey; junior Eric Schneider.
Top girls: Seniors Ashmi Patel and Lee Lee Sands.