Centennial junior Ram Kotnana spent the last two years working toward this moment on May 15. He lost the first set of the Howard County boys' singles championship match to River Hill's Prateek Swamykumar, 5-7, and was in danger of falling in the finals for a second time in three years.
But after a year away from the high school circuit playing USTA tournaments, Kotnana learned how to trust his game. If he stays the course, stays aggressive and serves consistently, he doesn't think there are many players who can beat him. That confidence, though, didn't come easy.
"I'm capable of more when I'm not scared to play. When I'm not scared to play I'm capable of a lot. If I just let go and play free, I can hit amazing shots that I can't even think I could do," said Kotnana, who lost to Atholton's Matt Sklar, 4-6, 6-3, 7-6 (7-5), in the county championship match as a freshman. "I learned that I'm mentally tough. I can persevere through any match if I keep going at it. That's what helps me in tough matches like these."
Kotnana's perseverance was evident from then on, as the No. 1 seed bounced back to win the second and third sets to beat No. 3 seed Swamykumar, 5-7, 6-4, 6-3, to win the county championship.
Centennial's Olivia Tsai and Andy Tseng beat the top two seeds, including No. 1 seed Tess Weber and Michael Kimack, 7-6 (7-4), 6-2, in the finals to win the mixed doubles title and help the Eagles win the County Cup with 33 points on May 16. River Hill (30.5), Marriotts Ridge (25), Glenelg (15.5) and Howard (15) rounded out the top five teams.
Glenelg's Shawn Witschen and Reece Maiden, seeded second, avenged a county semifinal defeat to Centennial's top-seeded team of William Liu and Peter Ho, 6-2, 6-2, to win the boys' doubles championship.
Marriotts Ridge's Abby Thornton — a three-time defending county singles champion — teamed up with Veronica Cuellar to beat Howard's Alyssa Boryachinsky and Kailey Caroland, 6-0, 6-1, for the girls' doubles title.
River Hill's Anna Artazova edged Long Reach's Snigdha Puram, 4-6, 6-2, 6-0, to capture her first girls' singles championship.
Kotnana's road to the finals was an easy one. He swept Hammond's William Cheuvront, Oakland Mills' Bilal Rashid and Atholton's Ovias Hasan without dropping a game to advance, but Swamykumar posed a serious threat to Kotnana's undefeated season.
Swamykumar, a three-time all-county selection who teamed up with Artazova to finish second at the county and regional tournaments in mixed doubles last year, had a tougher road. He beat Glenelg's Ziam Khan, 6-2, 6-2, Reservoir's Dutch Schulden, 6-1, 7-5, and then upset No. 2 seed Stephen Alam of Marriotts Ridge, 6-3, 7-6 (10-8), to reach the finals.
He carried the momentum into the first set against Kotnana before Kotnana settled in and stuck to his game plan.
"Prateek was playing really, really well. I was thinking I can't give him easy shots and had to give him short balls," Kotnana said. "I had to dictate the points and win my serves. Luckily I was able to do both of that and eventually take the match."
Witschen and Maiden, meanwhile, finished third at last year's county tournament but bounced back to win the regional title. They lost to an Eagles team that included Ho in the semifinals, and revenge was on their mind on May 15.
"It's nice to come out here and give it back to them," said Witschen. "Last year against them we were up 5-2 in the second set and lost 7-5. We tried not to bring that up in the match. It came up once, but we shut it down pretty quick."
Liu and Ho beat River Hill's Justin Tung and Bradley Kline, 6-4, 7-6, Reservoir's Naveed Nekoo and Sam Kim, 6-0, 6-1, and Marriotts Ridge's Ishan Shah and Duncan Tilles, 7-6 (7-4), 6-4, en route to the championship match.
"It feels really good," added Maiden. "That semifinal, it brings back nightmares. We were supposed to win that matchup and it was kind of a similar result to today, 6-2, 6-2. We just got outplayed by them, so it feels good to beat them in the county championship. It's our senior year and I haven't won a county championship before. I've won regions, but counties hits home."
The top four finishers in each event advance to the regional tournament.