The most fearsome girls tennis player in Anne Arundel County knows she’s underestimated.
When opponents take the court and spy the girl across the net, there’s sometimes a moment of doubt. Broadneck coach Kathy Perrotta sees it too. She didn’t quite know what to expect when tiny-figured freshman Olivia Mellynchuk walked into tryouts this spring, despite the legacy that comes with the Mellynchuk name.
Then, Mellynchuk plays and everything is clear.
“You see a different side of her,” Perrotta said. “She’s a little spit fire.”
Mellynchuk, the 2022 Capital girls tennis Player of the Year, is ranked in the top 300 nationally by the United States Tennis Association for girls 16 and under, ranked 17th in the Mid-Atlantic Section and seventh in Maryland. She is a four-star recruit, according to the Tennis Recruiting Network.
She blazed through the county unbeaten and by the time she captured the county girls singles title and the Class 4A East Region II title, she saw respect from opposing players and coaches.
“They started to get more scared,” Mellynchuk said. “A lot of people threw their matches during the season; they didn’t put their best players against me. I guess that shows that I did okay.”
Olivia didn’t need to put her surname on the county radar. Her older sister, Vanessa, accomplished that in her three years at South River, garnering a wire-to-wire undefeated record. When Perrotta encountered the siblings practicing on South River’s court years ago, there’d been a chance Olivia would attend Broadneck in the performing and visual arts program, though she likely wouldn’t play varsity tennis.
The family moved to the Broadneck Peninsula after Vanessa’s graduation. Perrotta had a team with good pieces, but not enough. Then Mellynchuk came to town.
“It was definitely a gift,” Perrotta said.
The switch to Broadneck affords Mellynchuk a gift, too.
“It’s cool because it’s different,” she said. “I can start something new, and it doesn’t have South River [and Vanessa’s legacy] behind it.”
Mellynchuk advanced to the final round of the state tournament where she matched up against Wooten’s Helen Sarikulaya, another nationally-ranked player in the 18 and under category. Mellynchuk experienced something new: defeat.
But with Sarikulaya graduated, Perrotta sees nothing in Mellynchuk’s path to reign over the state in the next three years.
“Her goal is to win the state title. Keeping that goal in mind and working towards that, she more than definitely has a shot,” Perrotta said.
Matt McNair proved that possible. Severn’s star senior faced his best opponent, Rohan Milak of Gilman, early in the season when his legs and arms turned on him. McNair battled through cramps to finish the match in a loss.
It would be the Navy commit’s only loss of 2022.
McNair bested Milak twice, in the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference team final between Gilman and Severn as well as in the individual tournament. McNair exited his brief but storied Admirals career as the greatest player in program history.
There can be no other player considered to be the best than this year’s Capital Gazette boys tennis Player of the Year, according to coach Bill Gilroy.
“He’s intense. He never quits,” Gilroy said. “He’s got so much talent and he’s not conceited about it. If you didn’t know he was a great tennis player, he wouldn’t tell you.”
It does sting McNair to know there will be a blemish on his otherwise unbeaten high school record. His perfect run in 2021 led him to the Player of the Year honors as well as the USA Today Maryland High School Player of the Year. But the future Midshipman lets his small disappointment flow downstream.
Rather than modeling himself after one of his idols, Australian professional Nick Kyrgios, McNair learns from his mistakes.
“He’s one of the most talented players on tour but doesn’t see a lot of success because of his mindset,” McNair said. “I think that’s the most important aspect of tennis and I’m happy to say I feel I’ve grown a lot.”
McNair meditates, both in a traditional sense and on the court. He learned how to still any currents in his mind in difficult matches, a tool he had to employ in the team championship finals.
“I lost the last time and needed to prove myself again,” McNair said.
He felt the waves of attention from both his friends in the crowd and dozens of Gilman fans.
“It would be really easy to lose focus,” McNair said, “but I kept it concentrated.”
That’s something he wasn’t always able to do. Unlike many who move on to play at the Division I level, McNair quit tennis between ages 8 and 12. He left at the top, a runner-up finisher at the international level. But he began to feel burnt out on tennis and picked up soccer with his friends.
Once the exhaustion subsided, his love for tennis returned. He could follow his passion again, to play tennis in college just like his parents before him.
Now, avoiding burnout is easy. He doesn’t feel pressure from parents or coaches or team at all.
“When you’re older, you have a free will,” McNair said. “Although it’s the same commitment, it’s coming from me. I’m the one who wants to do it. It’s not hard. It’s not a challenge. It’s something I enjoy.”
McNair transferred into a B Conference Severn team without much credibility on the big stage. He leaves the program in a better place.
“His desire to win is his habits, how he practiced and he inspired his teammates by that work ethic,” Gilroy said. “They followed him without a doubt.”
Coach of the Year
Mark Bieberich, Severna Park
Absolutely no one could compare to the success of the Falcons this spring. Under Bieberich’s hand, Severna Park blazed through the regular season undefeated (12-0), dropping single-digit sets before reaching the county championship. Boys singles and boys doubles victories helped, but the points from second-place finishers in the girls singles, boys singles and girls doubles, as well as third-place finishers at boys doubles and mixed doubles, delivered the 38 points the Falcons needed to capture the program’s eighth county trophy.
The coach then guided his team to garner region titles in boys singles, boys doubles and girls doubles.
“Tennis is mainly an individualized sport, so building team cohesiveness can be difficult. Our players, however, really functioned as a team,” Bieberich said. “They worked hard and pushed each other at practice every day, they supported one another with incredible spirit during matches, and they kept the team vibe loose and fun all season.”
All-County first team
Lucas Fuhrmann, Severna Park
Furhmann captured the Anne Arundel County Championship with a 6-2, 6-3 win over his teammate, Charlie Herman, who he then paired with to win the Class 4A East Region I boys doubles title.
Nate Krall, Severn
The Admirals’ other powerful senior forged an undefeated season in the MIAA A Conference all the way to the individual tournament where he won the title for No. 3 singles.
Elicia Aponte and Rebecca Terry, Broadneck
The two Bruins were a perfect pair, bouncing back from a first-set defeat in the Anne Arundel County Championship to win the girls doubles title, 3-6, 6-3 (10-6). Aponte paired with Charlie Ernst to win the Class 4A East Region II mixed doubles title.
Chris Preston and Kiran Spencer, Severna Park
The junior and sophomore tandem won the Anne Arundel County Championship in boys doubles, 6-0, 6-1. Preston played singles in the postseason and won the Class 4A East II Region championship.
John Hooker and Caroline Finn, South River
The two Seahawks brought the lone Anne Arundel County Championship win for their team in mixed doubles, winning 6-2, 6-3. The two stuck together in the Class 4A East Region II and took second.
All-County second team
Charlie Ernst, Broadneck
Ryan Ferrer, Meade
Aiden Gilroy, Severn
Ryan Hart, Key
Charlie Herman, Severna Park
Gustav Kemp, Broadneck
Matthias Linke, Arundel
Daniel McNair, Severn
Patrick Miller, South River
Alan Tchamourliyski, Severn
Key: Luke Holmes, Naho Urabe, Max Fishback, Henry Keuleman. Old Mill: Yash Gulati, Garrett DiBenio. St. Mary’s: Finn Peestra, Ellie Williams. Severna Park: Grace Warner, Lylah Mudd.