Marriotts Ridge and Centennial have been Howard County’s premier tennis programs the last couple years and their talent carried them to team titles on Saturday at the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association state tennis championships at Wilde Lake Tennis Club.
The Mustangs had three finalists and a state champion — Stephen Alam and Veronica Cuellar in Class 2A mixed doubles — to earn 55 points and outpace Hereford (48) for the 2A state championship, while the Eagles (62) put two in the finals to edged Huntingtown (52) to win the 3A title.
Individually, Hammond’s Origen Grear also won gold by winning the 2A boys singles championship.
Marriotts Ridge’s Revanth Bairi and Brandon Tseytlin (2A boys doubles) and Kallista Liu (2A girls singles), River Hill’s Maanasa Gurram and Siri Jale (2A girls doubles) and Kartik Gupta and Defne Demirekler (2A mixed doubles), Mt. Hebron’s Michael Kimack (3A boys singles), and Centennial’s Danny Ho and Ryan Huang (3A boys doubles) and Abby Jackson and Shreya Vallimanalan (3A girls doubles) were all runners-up.
Centennial’s Rose Huang (3A girls singles) and Olivia Tsai and Christopher Chen (3A mixed doubles), Reservoir’s Grace Tao and Allyson Sears (3A girls doubles) and Oakland Mills’ Henri Burkhard (2A boys singles) finished third.
Mt. Hebron’s Abishay Reddy and Adam Sowers (3A boys doubles) and Atholton’s Niki Patel and Sahil Patel (3A mixed doubles) placed fourth.
The MPSSAA changed the format for the tournament this season and for the first time crowned a team champion in each of the four classifications, and they also changed the individual component. Instead of having a single champion and a 16-man bracket in the each of the five disciplines, each classification had an eight-man bracket for girls and boys singles, boys and girls doubles and mixed doubles.
“It’s different. I do like that it gives a lot more teams an opportunity to showcase their talent,” said Eagles coach Erin Parisi. “It’s interesting ... but I like it. It’s nice to also have a team champion outside of the just the individual stuff because for so long tennis was just looked at as an individual sport but in high school it’s really kind of a team thing.
“Montgomery County schools have always been so dominant, so it’s great that we at least get a chance to try to shine. My kids played awesome. I’m just really proud of them.”
Marriotts Ridge coach Scott Dingman said the idea of pairing Alam and Cuellar came about in January after the new format was announced. He thought they both would have had a chance to win state titles in singles but thought together “for sure that was a guarantee win for them.”
They raced through the first two rounds to reach the final, but against a familiar foe — Gupta and Demirekler of the Hawks — it was far from easy. The Mustangs jumped out to a 4-1 lead in the opening set but dropped the next four games to fall behind. They were able to win the first-set tiebreak, however, 9-7, and then broke Gupta and Demirekler early in the second and held on to win in straight sets.
“This feels great. It’s a great way to end my senior year. I finally got that state championship, so I’m excited,” said Alam, a three-time first-team All-County selection who won a doubles county title in 2016 and a placed third at the county and region tournaments last year in singles.
For Cuellar, this was familiar territory. The two-time Howard County Player of the Year won the girls doubles state title in 2017 alongside Abby Thornton.
“On one, I was playing with my best friend. On this one, I’m playing with someone who is now a really good friend of mine,” she said. “He’s an amazing player and I feel so lucky I got to play with him.”
Grear’s title was the most difficult of the bunch. He lost the first set to Queen Anne’s Hugh Meehan and trailed by a game late in the second before rallying to win three straight games to force a title-deciding 10-point tiebreak. Grear needed a medical timeout due to cramps and cramped again leading 8-2 in the tiebreak but was able to hold on for the victory.
“I just wanted to everything I could to not miss a single ball and try to get that win,” he said, “and luckily I did. ... This means a lot after how much I’ve been training and the injuries and stuff like that. I really needed this to boost my confidence.”
Cramps forced Grear to retire at last year’s state tournament. Golden Bears coach Omri Kagan said he was concerned when the injuries arose again but said he “wasn’t going to let him come off.”
“I’m very proud of him for toughing it out,” he added. “It didn’t matter whether he could move or not. Stay out there on the court and you give yourself a chance.”
Class 2A: 1. Marriotts Ridge, 55 points; 2. Hereford, 48; 3. Easton, 46; 4. Liberty, 41; 5. River Hill, 37; 9. Hammond, 20; 14. Oakland Mills, 13; 19. Glenelg, 9.