Marriotts Ridge was Howard County’s top tennis program during the regular season and it showed during the Howard County tennis tournament.

The Mustangs, who claimed the regular season boys title and shared the girls crown, won the County Cup for the second straight season and for the third time in the last four years.

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Marriotts Ridge head coach Scott Dingman said “depth” is the reason why the Mustangs won the tournament this year.

“We had a really solid group of freshmen come in this year that really solidified the bottom half of the lineup,” he said. “We had a lot of versatility from top to bottom.”

Marriotts Ridge won three of the five titles decided Friday at Wilde Lake Tennis Club and Saturday at Howard High School.

Seniors Veronica Cuellar and Stephen Alam won the mixed doubles title. Kallista Liu took home the girls singles championship, and Revanth Bairi and Brandon Tseytlin won the boys doubles crown.

“We [Stephen and I] had played once or twice in practice, but this was the first time we had played three full matches together,” said Cuellar, who won a state title in girls doubles as a sophomore and finished fourth at states in girls singles last season. “The first two matches went a little rough, but we definitely stepped up our game (in the finals).”

Cuellar and Alam defeated Centennial’s Olivia Tsai and Christopher Chen 6-2, 6-3.

Alam, who won a county title in boys doubles as a freshman, said the key for mixed doubles is “communication.”

“She’s an easy person to work with,” Alam said. “We are always talking to each other and giving off positive vibes if we make a mistake. It was great to get this county title, but hopefully we can win more than a county title.”

Puram breaks through, Marriotts Ridge tennis wins Howard County Cup

Long Reach's Snidgha Puram, Centennial's Ram Kotnana win singles titles, Mt. Hebron's Michael Kimack and Alex Nazaire, Howard's Alyssa Boryachinskiy and Kailey Caroland, and Centennial's Peter Ho and Olivia Tsai win doubles championships.

Alam and Cuellar are Marriotts Ridge’s No. 1 boys and girls singles players, respectively. For the postseason, however, Dingman put them together for mixed doubles, which isn’t a discipline in the regular season in Howard County.

“We put our two best players together in mixed, and we’ll see how far they can go,” said Dingman. “Veronica and Stephen proved how good they are winning the finals in straight sets. I think they’re just going to continue to get better. I think they have a chance to win the state championship there.”

Liu, who was the No. 2 singles player for Marriotts Ridge during the regular season, dominated the girls singles tournament. As the top seed, Liu won 6-0, 6-0 in the quarterfinals and semifinals. In the championship Friday, she defeated Centennial’s Rose Huang, the No. 2 seed, 6-0, 6-1.

“Coming into the tournament I was trying to play my best,” Liu said. “I knew I was going up against the best competition. I just tried to be on my ‘A’ game as best as I could.”

Dingman said the county tournament is the first time he’s seen Liu against “good competition,” because she hasn’t played against other No. 1s.

“She’s an incredible player,” said Dingman, who is in his 14th season leading the Mustangs. “She hits the ball with a heavy pace and spin and moves her opponents around. … I believe she has a chance to win the state championship at singles.”

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Centennial's Ho, Tsai, Marriotts Ridge's Cuellar place at tennis state tournament

Centennial's Peter Ho and Olivia Tsai placed third in mixed doubles, and Marriotts Ridge's Veronica Cuellar took fourth in girls' singles.

Bairi and Tseytlin started their match against Centennial’s top-seeded duo of Danny Ho and Ryan Huang on Friday, but only one game was played in the first set before the day’s action was postponed due to rain.

The third-seeded Mustangs duo won the match 6-4, 6-4.

“We were kind of upset we got the No. 3 seed,” Tseytlin said. “We had to prove we were worthy of the No. 1 seed, and that’s what we did today.”

“I was super excited for them,” Dingman said. “They played fantastic tennis. They had a confidence and aggressiveness about them today that when they’re on, they’re tough to beat.”

The other two results from Friday were boys singles and girls doubles.

Hammond junior Origen Grier beat Mt. Hebron’s Michael Kimack 6-2, 6-1 for the boys singles title. Grier, the No. 1 seed, didn’t lose a set in the tournament.

“My mindset was to not underestimate anybody,” Grier said. “I wanted to take every match seriously. I knew (Kimack) would keep on fighting.”

The most surprising result of the tournament was in girls doubles. Centennial’s third-seeded duo of senior Abby Jackson and sophomore Shreya Vallimanalan defeated No. 2 seed River Hill in the semifinals and No. 1 seed Marriotts Ridge in the finals.

The pair lost the first set 2-6 in the semifinals, and Jackson said to Vallimanalan, “We are second-set players.” They won the next set, 6-2, and the tiebreaker, 15-13, to advance to the finals.

Against Marriotts Ridge’s Avani Badugu and Savana Owens, the Eagles duo lost the first set again, 4-6. This time, Vallimanalan said the reassuring phrase to Jackson, and the same result followed, as the pair won the second set, 6-3, and the tiebreaker, 10-5.

“I really trust her,” Jackson said of her teammate. “We got along really well as soon as we started playing, and the trust has been building ever since.”

The two have played doubles together for the whole season, and Vallimanalan said that chemistry helped them in the tournament.

“Abby is really aggressive at the net, and I’m more of a baseline player,” Vallimanalan said. “We work well together.”

The teams will now move on to the regional tournaments, which begin Thursday, May 16, and end Saturday, May 18. The 3A and 4A tournaments will be held at Wilde Lake Tennis Club, while the 2A tournament will be at North Point High School.

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