On the surface, Marriotts Ridge sophomore Faith McIlvain displayed very little emotion — no smiles, fist pumps or other displays of excitement.
But deep down, as the Mustangs' sophomore made her way around the first nine holes at the University of Maryland Golf Course on Tuesday during the opening round of the 1A/2A state tournament, she says she could barely contain herself.
With three birdies over her first five holes, McIlvain had quickly separated herself from the field and set herself on course for a career day.
"I just tried keeping my happiness, I guess, under a little bit … not getting too excited about the birdies," said McIlvain, who is competing in her first state tournament after failing to qualify as a freshman. "I mean I did definitely cheer myself on, keeping myself definitely more positive. But I also wanted to stay in the moment and not get too caught up in the score."
McIlvain ended up riding that hot start to an even-par round of 71, putting her nine strokes ahead of the second place duo of Holly Haber and Taylor Judge from Kent Island. After making four bogies on her back nine, she even finished on a high note by making a birdie on her final hole of the day.
And, while McIlvain certainly took center stage, Marriotts Ridge would go on to steal all the headlines Tuesday.
Mustangs' senior David Stephens posted the top boys score of the day (75) to take a two-stroke lead on the 1A/2A field. And, in the team competition, Marriotts Ridge compiled a four-player total of 309 to take a 28-stroke lead on second-place Kent Island.
For a program chasing what would be a state-record-breaking sixth straight state championship, everything seemed to fall perfectly into place.
"I can't say enough about this group, especially when you consider we lost three of our four from last year. But this program has had a 'next-man up' mentality for such a long time. It's unbelievable to think we've been leading after the first day nine straight years now," said Marriotts Ridge coach Mark Dubbs, who had three straight teams fall short of first place after leading states at the end of day one before finally breaking through in 2012.
Behind its top two players, Marriotts Ridge also got a 78 from Alex Pak and an 85 from Akash Marakath to round out its scoring.
Pak, who had fired an opening-round 88 at states last year, is the only member of this year's Mustangs' squad to have played in a state tournament prior to this fall. But a lack of experience certainly didn't hinder the team's performance.
In fact, Stephens said having to watch from the side last year only made him hungrier.
"For me, just getting the chance to now be the one out on the course instead of walking up the cart path, it's just an amazing feeling," Stephens said. "The expectations are high, but that's what I and the entire team have been working toward … getting to this tournament and trying to keep the streak alive."
Stephens was one of the few players Tuesday that seemed to get better as the day went on, even with winds picking up and the greens getting firmer. He played his final 10 holes in just one-over par and that helped him catapult up into the lead.
McIlvain, on the other hand, was in the lead right from the start. Starting on the back nine, she opened with a par and then proceeded to make back-to-back birdies on the 11th and 12th holes.
Following a par on the par 5 13th hole, she then rolled in another birdie putt on No. 14 to quickly move to 3-under par.
"It was definitely very exciting, because going out I didn't really know what to expect," McIlvain said. "But this course has always been a favorite of mine, only because it's so open. I'm just very happy with how I played."
McIlvain could have potentially gone even further under par, but she narrowly missed three birdie putts just over 10 feet over her next four holes. She made the turn at 3-under par.
Her first bogey of the day came on her 11th hole and then she ended up making three more bogies over her next six holes. On the par 5 final hole, however, she got up-and-down from the greenside sand trap to make her fourth birdie of the day and finish at even.
Looking ahead, McIlvain says she's going to try to wipe the slate clean despite the big lead.
"I feel like tomorrow I'm just going to play my game hole-by-hole again, and not think back to today," McIlvain said. "I kind of want a fresh start I guess … I just want to play as I go."
The rest of the Marriotts Ridge team echoed that sentiment of not letting the comfortable lead change the strategy. The Mustangs five consecutive state championships are tied with Winston Churchill (2002-06) for the state record.
Should the team win again this fall, the record would be all theirs.
"I think today was a culmination of all season trying to build that mindset of recovery, when to play defensive golf and when to be aggressive. Now it just comes down to the execution of it," Stephens said. "I know I personally felt very prepared and, as a team, I think all the hard work really is paying off."
In addition to Marriotts Ridge's players, River Hill's Kevin Hickey (81) also made the cut, which was set at 83 for the boys. Hickey's round included a near hole-in-one on the par 3 14th, where his tee shot settled less than a foot away from the hole to set up a birdie.
All the qualifying players from both 1A/2A and 3A/4A will return on Wednesday for the final round, which will begin at 9 a.m. with a shotgun start.
TEAM RESULTS (1A/2A)
1. Marriotts Ridge, 309; 2. Kent Island, 338; 3. Fallston, 340; 4. Middletown, 343; 5. Oakdale, 343; 6. Hereford, 349; 7. LaPlata, 354; 8. Damascus, 362; 9. Smithsburg, 364; 10. Patterson Mill, 371; 11. North Harford, 375.