Marriotts Ridge Senior Isaac Kim talks about the Mustangs’ quest for a sixth straight county title and seventh straight state championship following the opening day of tryouts on Aug. 20, 2018.
Fifty-five matches and just shy of six years.
That’s how long it’s been since Marriotts Ridge’s boys golf team lost to a county opponent.
In the moment, the 89-74 setback against Centennial on Oct. 17 to close the 2012 regular season was inconspicuous enough for a Mustangs program that to that point had never won a county championship. But, as time as proven, that loss would serve as the jumping off point for a dynasty.
The week after that loss to the Eagles, Marriotts Ridge went on to win the first of a state-record six consecutive 1A/2A state championships. This fall the team will try to make it seven.
“You look back at the streak and it truly is remarkable. One undefeated season is unbelievably hard to accomplish, but five in a row … wow,” Marriotts Ridge coach Mark Dubbs said. “It just speaks volumes about the commitment of the kids and how hard they’ve worked to build this program. At this point, every new player that comes in here knows the expectations and they push one another to reach them.”
There have been plenty of close calls during this unbeaten stretch, including five matches over the last two years that were decided by eight strokes or less. But with every new challenge and every new year, a new set of Mustangs players have been ready to step up and provide an answer.
“I think at this point there is definitely a pride factor. You saw it last year with our seniors Alex [Pak] and David [Stephens] basically saying that the streak wasn’t going to end on their watch,” Dubbs said. “That mentality and ability to perform under pressure seems to carry over year after year.”
Marriotts Ridge brings back three players — Justin Allen, Isaac Kim and Akash Marakath — that averaged at least 19.8 points a year ago under the county’s Modified Stableford scoring system (one point for a double bogey, two for a bogey, three for a par, etc.) and each ranked among the top 15 scorers in the county. The team has also added Sung Kim, a transfer from Mt. Hebron who averaged 18.7 points a match last year, to its roster.
So it goes without saying that the rest of the local teams know exactly who and what they are chasing.
“At this point, they’ve kind of controlled the county for so long that I think you naturally circle that match and look forward to the opportunity to compete against the best. Eventually someone is going to knock them off and whoever does it is going to be the ones everyone starts talking about,” said River Hill coach Matt Graves. “I know at River Hill we welcome that challenge and I think a lot of it has to do with the respect we have for the program they have built at Marriotts Ridge.”
Graves’ Hawks appear to be positioned as well as anyone to potentially end Marriotts Ridge’s run. River Hill brings back three of its top five players from a team that went 9-1-1 a season ago and finished in a tie for second in the standings with Glenelg. Senior Kevin Hickey is the undisputed leader of the group, placing in a tie for sixth at the 1A/2A state tournament last fall and having been named as an All-County performer two years in a row.
As for the Gladiators, they lost three senior starters from a year ago. The perennial powerhouse program does return a first-team All-County performer in Caleb Taylor, who led the county in scoring average (23.6 points a match) as a freshman.
“Having a player like Caleb, who you know is going to be consistent, definitely gives us something to build around. But overall we have a very inexperienced team,” Glenelg coach Chris Beil said. “For us this year it’s going to be about learning how to manage the golf course and limiting our mistakes.”
On paper, Centennial —with Kenneth Chaplain, Takumi Fukuzawa and Ty Sams all back after averaging 18 or more points in 2017 — figures to be the most likely of the next tier teams to challenge for a title. The Eagles were 8-3 last fall and fell just five points short against Marriotts Ridge when the two teams met during the regular season.
Individually, Atholton junior Branden Nguyen is a two-time first-team All-County performer that figures to once again challenge for championships during the postseason. Nguyen ranked second in the county in scoring average as a sophomore with 23.4 points a match and finished fifth at the District V tournament with a 78.
Howard set a county record last fall with its fourth straight county team championship, but the team’s top two players graduated. Two-time Player of the Year Jackie Cherry and two-time first-team All-County performer Alex Abrams were two of just four players to break 96 at last year’s county championship tournament.
Junior Logan Lurie, a first-team All-County performer in her own right, is now the leader of a team that will have a different look this fall. But, according to coach Joshua McGoun, the expectations are still high.
“That was quite the ride we had the last four years and we definitely recognize the loss of Jackie and Alex. But we still believe in the players we have back and think that we can still be a big force in the county,” he said. “Logan, as a junior, is a proven leader who knows what it takes to be successful and the hope is that rubs off on some of our younger, more unproven players.”
Centennial has been slowly closing the gap on the Lions in recent years, and this may indeed be the Eagles’ time to take over the throne. The team lost county champion Isabel Trojillo to graduation, but there are four other All-County performers back in the fold.
Coach Stephen Lee said the group of Katie Cody, Megumi Fukuzawa, Joanna Park and Morgan Taylor is extremely hungry.
“The girls, they are definitely excited. They’ve been close the last couple years and they feel like this could be the breakthrough year,” Centennial coach Stephen Lee said. “There might not be that one individual standout on the team like Isabel was for us last year, but they are a true team. Together, as a group, if they can just stay consistent then they will be tough to beat.”
Individually, all eyes will be on Marriotts Ridge junior Faith McIlvain. Last year, she improved every step of the way during the postseason — placing third at the county championships, second at the District V tournament and then posting a two-day score of 147 to win the individual title at the 1A/2A state championship tournament.
This year she will be looking to build on that finish and her regular-season scoring average of 22.9 points a match. No other returning county girls player averaged more than 16 points per match in 2017.
The official start to the golf season is traditionally well before all other fall sports. And, while that is still the case this year, the first matches are actually a week later than the previous few seasons.
Ten of the county’s 12 teams will kick their seasons off on Aug. 23.
Among the matches to circle on the calendar is the Howard, Centennial and Atholton girls tri-match on Aug. 29 at the Timbers at Troy. Also, the tri-match between Marriotts Ridge, River Hill and Centennial on Sept. 25 at the Timbers at Troy figures to have county championship implications for both the boys and girls.
Graves said the coaches intentionally put that tri-match between the Mustangs, Hawks and Eagles at the end of the season in anticipation of the firepower those teams bring back.
“You never know how things are going to shake out, but the idea was to identify who the likely top couple teams were on paper and have them play each other in a county-championship type of match there at the end,” he said. “Obviously, there’s a lot of other teams that are going to be trying to spoil the party before we get there, but you could end up seeing a winner-take-all scenario. It should be fun and provide the kind of postseason feel the kids are going to see at the county and district tournaments right after that.”
Marriotts Ridge's golf team wins record-breaking sixth straight 1A/2A state championship, getting individual tournament titles from Faith McIlvain and David Stephens on Oct. 25, 2017 at the University of Maryland Golf Course.