- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
COLLEGE PARK There was not nearly as huge a crowd at the University of Maryland Cole Field House tennis courts on Saturday afternoon as there was on Friday afternoon, but the stakes on Saturday were much bigger than the stakes on Friday.
During the Saturday afternoon session at the state tennis championships, titles were on the line. And after winning semifinal matches on Saturday morning, two Southern Maryland Athletic Conference teams were in state championship matches: The mixed doubles team of Rachel Land and Tyler Collins from Huntingtown and the boys doubles team of Billy Clark and Juha Ellonen of Great Mills.
Both teams followed similar paths to the state title match, each winning SMAC and Region IV tournament titles and one more win would capture state glory.
However, as each took similar paths to the final match, each took similar paths to the ultimate end of the season, second place.
Land and Collins dropped their final match to the top-seeded team from Montgomery County’s Wootton of Aishu Iyer and Julian Mu in straight sets, 6-3, 6-1.
However, for Land, a senior, she agreed that the experience of the postseason was indeed a feather in the cap of her high school tennis career.
“This is the end of my high-school career, but this was fun,” Land said. “I am glad I did this in my senior year and it was all worth it. I had a lot of fun and a great experience. I am going to remember this for the rest of my life, absolutely.”
For partner Tyler Collins, he finishes his junior campaign as a state runner-up with a foundation for his upcoming senior season.
“I think their girl was really strong, so that helped them a lot,” Collins said of the final match. “He did a great job as well, and it was just two tough players that worked well together and they just outplayed us today.”
On reaching the state championship, he added, "I always knew we would do well, but I wasn't sure that we could go this far. But, I'm definitely happy with how we did."
The Great Mills boys duo of Clark and Ellonen was also defeated by a top-seeded team in Sean Ngo and Aries Wong of Walt Whitman of Montgomery County, 6-4, 6-1.
Both will have stories to tell as Ellonen will return to Finland in June and Clark ends his senior year in the state title match.
"It's really, really cool to be here and one of the highlights of my year," Ellonen said.
Clark added, "We got beat by two nationally-ranked players. They were better today, but I think that we gave them a good fight, especially in the first set. ... Finishing in the state championship match and for it to be the only loss of the season is not too bad."
Clark, who has been part of the SMAC scene for four years, commented on the conference’s showing at states that included two second-place finishes and a fourth-place finish.
“I think we had a pretty good year this year,” Clark said. “SMAC, this year at the highest level, did better than we have done in a long, long time.”
Leonardtown’s Robert Renfrow placed fourth overall in the boys singles bracket. That came after withdrawing from the tournament after his semifinal loss to Biyik Akinshemoyin of Reservoir of Howard County.
Renfrow, a senior, returned to Leonardtown after not playing high school tennis since his freshman year.
"It's been a good ride," Renfrow said. "I only lost one match [this year] and it's been really fun. It was worth it to come back for my senior year, it was a good experience. … I liked the team experience a lot and just being on a tennis team.”
On the match, he added, “I got down in each set pretty badly. I came back but I couldn’t put it away. I should have won it, but I just didn’t have the energy.”
Renfrow’s girls singles counterpart, senior Ashley Lytle, lost her first-round match in three sets but walked away smiling.
“It was probably the best season I’ve ever experienced,” Lytle said. “It was everything I hoped for and more and by far the best season of my entire tennis career.”
Lydia Browne and Kristie Holland of Great Mills won their first-round match in the girls doubles bracket, defeating Laura Solomon and Morgan Glazer of Franklin of Baltimore County, 6-4, 6-2, but bowed out in the tournament’s second round.
“After the first win, I was so excited that we got to go into the second round,” Holland said. “I was thinking maybe we could go further because we worked so hard to get to this point; it was awesome.”
Browne added, “The last two years, I have come close to states, but haven’t got here. My partner helped me get this year and just being here is awesome. … I’ll admit and make no excuses, they were a great team and I have no regrets.”
The Great Mills mixed doubles team of Caleb Fahrner and Dani Gorman lost in the first round to Iyer and Mu.