When Frederick County mixed doubles champions Michelle Rizk and Karl Sasse of Oakdale High School finished as runners-up at the Region I tennis championship on Saturday at Middletown they became the first players in the program’s two-year history to earn a berth in the state tournament.
But the accomplishment means more than just a chance to play in the state event Friday and Saturday at the University of Maryland, College Park.
Oakdale boys and girls coaches Brian Remsch and Shaun Weiss said the mixed doubles team’s ascent to the upper echelon signifies where the Bears tennis program as a whole is headed.
“To have one person from each team shows the talent we have at our school and that we can play with the best in this county and region,” Remsch said.
Just a few short months ago Remsch said he watched in agony as his squad nearly squandered an early lead against Carroll County’s Manchester Valley in a 3-2 season-opening win in early March.
This wasn’t a matter of win-loss record, it was something deeper.
As a first-year program with only freshmen and sophomores in 2011, the Bears paid their dues and struggled a year ago.
The boys team didn’t win a single team match in its inaugural year, while the girls won four.
Remsch said he knew his team was capable of much more this year, adding that winning the season opener was integral to proving that to his players.
Oakdale’s boys team won its first two matches this season and finished with eight wins. The Bears defeated all but three county opponents at least once.
The girls team won five of its first seven matches before losing No. 1 singles player Harriet Collins to a torn tendon in her foot. They finished 5-12.
A year after finishing in the lower rung of county tennis, the Bears boys and girls announced themselves as legitimate contenders with fifth-place finishes at the Frederick County Championships earlier his month.
“This past year was a huge turnaround and it’s a testament to how hard everyone worked in the offseason,” Remsch said.
Part of the Bears’ quick transition is luck. When Oakdale opened two years ago it drew from perennial tennis powers Linganore, Gov. Thomas Johnson and Urbana.
Most players, Weiss said, came in with at least minimal playing experience, which isn’t the case for every program.
Weiss (Class of 1993) and Remesch (Class of 2005) are Linganore graduates with strong ties to county tennis. Both said they are eager to do their part in continuing to grow the sport in Frederick County.
“I only keep 12 girls,” Weiss said. “If girls coming next year beat out the girls I have, I want the team within itself to be competitive. It builds better character. When I was in high school, there were just a few select teams that were good. Now the talent is more spread out. Frederick used to dominate the region tournament but last year we didn’t win one title. The shift has come, it’s time to take it more seriously.”
With no seniors in the school this year, all players from both squads are set to return next spring. A healthy Collins will be a boost to the girls team, and Leah Chomiak proved she can hang with the county’s top singles players. Only a few will graduate after the 2013 season, which means there is big upside for Oakdale.
On the boys’ side, sophomore Nos. 1 and 2 singles players David Rickert and Kevin Emmerich have demonstrated the ability to close out matches, which Remesch said takes off the Bears’ doubles lineup and puts Oakdale in a good position to compete in every match.
The Bears already sent a strong message with this spring’s postseason performances.
“I think to [win the regional mixed doubles title] and have one girl and one boy shows where our program is going,” Remsch said. “We’ve been right on the cusp.”