COLUMBIA — Rani Jones used the right mix of brains and brawn against Marriotts Ridge’s Lallista Liu on Saturday to win the Class 2A state girls singles tennis championship at Wilde Lake Tennis Club.
Jones, a senior, had her opponent measured from the get-go, breaking Liu’s service in the first game, setting up what turned out to be a 6-1, 6-0 win, giving the Bears their first state tennis champion in school history.
“Rani hit the right zones with her shots today,” Oakdale coach Shaun Weiss said. “She plays hard for every point and knows how to react to each return. She’ a good thinker out on the court.”
Jones’ win marks the third state championship for a county tennis player. She joins the ranks of Bresha Byrd Mogar (Middletown, 1992) and Katie Schafer (Linganore, 2008), the county’s previous state champions.
Jones was one of four county finalists at Saturday’s state championships, and she was the lone victor out of that group.
“The feeling is really awesome,” Jones said of her history-making win for Oakdale. “I’m pretty excited about it.”
The county’s other finalists, Brunswick’s Johan Klausen (Class 1A boys singles) and Catoctin’s Lily Smith and Landon Levering (Class 1A mixed doubles) lost in their championship matches. Klausen lost to Frederick Douglass’ Brian Wilson, 6-1, 6-4. Smith and Levering lost to Mountain Ridge’s Meghan Murphy and Seth Jones, 6-0, 6-2.
Jones, ranked 22nd in the women’s 18-year-old division of the United States Tennis Association, was on her game the entire match. Her punishing serves along and a powerful topspin strokes made for difficult returns by Liu.
“The majority of the time today, I was on offense,” Jones said. “I was aggressive, trying to take control of the point when I could. There were a couple of long games, a couple of long points, but it was a really good match.”
Even when Liu broke Jones’ serve in the second game of the first set, she didn’t get rattled. Her all-court aggression more than made up for any shortcomings, which were few.
Some of the games during the match went to deuce several times. Still, Jones persisted and remained patient.
“I pretty much had to try and stay focused in those situations,” she said. “Just stay disciplined, stay on the point, play my game.”
There were times Jones had to contend with high lobs from Liu.
“I don’t know of anyone who likes lobs, but I tried to handle it as best I could,” Jones said.
A regular on the USTA circuit, Jones decided to play for her high school team for the first time this season, blessing the Bears with hear talent. Weiss wondered if he’ll ever get to coach someone like her again.
“Rani is quiet, humble and has a good sense of humor,” Weiss said. “She has so much talent. I hate to see her go. She really has matured so much this year.”
Weiss also thinks there’s a good chance Jones and Liu could end up in a rematch this summer at a USTA event.
While Jones had her way with Liu, Klausen, a senior foreign-exchange student from Sweden, was not himself on the court Saturday.
He forced shots, double-faulted numerous times and seemed out of sync at times. Wilson took advantage of just about every miscue Klausen made.
“I was mad at myself,” Klausen said. “I was making too many mistakes. That’s something I don’t normally do.”
Brunswick coach Lee Zumbach could see it was going to be a frustrating match for Klausen.
“This is very uncharacteristic of Johan,” Zumbach said. “You can’t double-fault 12 to 14 times and expect to win a match. There were a lot of unforced errors. Still, Johan is not a quitter. He tried his best to get back into the match.”
Zumbach said the fact Klausen became the first Brunswick tennis player to reach a state final is still quite an accomplishment. This was the first year the MPSSAA determined state tennis champions by school classification. Previously, the state championships were all one classification.
“This will give the smaller schools more opportunities to advance in state play,” said Weiss, a member of the MPSSAA tennis committee. The expansion had been voted down before, but got passed last year, Weiss added.
NOTES: Catoctin’s Alexandra Merki defeated Allegany’s Claire Marlow for third place in Class 1A girls singles, 6-3, 6-1. The Cougars were tied for fifth in the Class 1A team standings (27). ... Urbana’s Aaliya Hussain and Anish Babu finished fourth in Class 4A mixed doubles.