Tennis often feels like an entirely different sport for Oakdale’s Rani Jones and Urbana’s Kevin Li.
On the year-round United States Tennis Association Circuit, Jones and Li are typically left to their own devices.
With minimal coaching during a match, they have to figure out how to win and what adjustments to make. Their results, whether it’s a win or a loss, typically draw little fanfare.
It can be a fairly isolated athletic experience.
That’s precisely why Jones and Li enjoy playing high school tennis so much. They belong to a team. It’s much more of a shared experience. Results, such as Monday’s No. 1 singles championships for both Jones and Lee in the Frederick County Public Schools tournament, can be enjoyed together.
Jones, for instance, had never played high school tennis until this season, which falls during her senior year at Oakdale.
“It’s fun to play on a team,” she said after a 6-0, 6-1 victory over Middletown’s Alexa Orlando in the girls No. 1 singles final Monday afternoon at Thomas Johnson High School. “I really enjoyed playing alongside my girls [at Oakdale].”
Li, meanwhile, earned a 6-1, 6-3 victory over fellow sophomore Gage Kirkwood of Middletown, and he was part of a momentous day for the Urbana boys team, which swept the championships in all five of the flights.
“We are so diverse,” said Li, who proved to be the top boys singles player in the county for the second consecutive season. “Everyone just gets along with each other. We aren’t trying to compete with each other or remove one another from a [team] position.
“Everyone knows their role on the team. Everyone gets along with each other. We have very good chemistry.”
This marked the first time the FCPS tennis tournament, stretched over six days due to rain, had no implications for the regional tournament due to a change in the postseason tennis format across the state.
As a result, champions were crowned at No. 1 singles, No. 2 singles, No. 1 doubles, No. 2 doubles and No. 3 doubles by FCPS.
The regional tennis tournament has both expanded and shrunk. Yes, every team in the county will now be represented at regionals. But each of those teams will be limited to one singles representative, one doubles representative and one mixed doubles representative.
The state will then crown a singles, doubles and mixed doubles champion in all four classifications.
“From everything I have heard so far, [tennis coaches] like it,” Kevin Kendro, the supervisor of athletics and extracurricular activities for FCPS, said of the changes. “There is more of a team aspect to it. So, that adds a new flavor to it. The one thing that will be a bit of a chance for us when it comes to regionals is we won’t have all of our schools playing at Baker Park.”
For a deep team like the Urbana boys, however, many players won’t be able to participate in the regional tournament despite winning county titles.
“I would rather have eight guys be able to play [at regionals],” Hawks coach Jon Walton said. “It’s a real shame for a couple of my guys. It’s like, ‘Congratulations, you won a county title. Now, your season is over.’
“I would rather them have the chance to earn their way to states. I understand the new format, though. It is what it is. You just have to be able to adjust to it.”
Despite seeing 80-plus match winning streaks for its boys and girls teams recently come to an end, Urbana rebounded to sweep the county team championships.
The Urbana boys accumulated 45 points in winning all five of the flights. Middletown was second with 23.
The Urbana girls, meanwhile, on the strength of victories at first doubles and third doubles, scored 29 points. Middletown, which beat the Hawks during the regular season, finished second with 23.
Aside from Jones, the county champions on the girls side were Thomas Johnson’s Catharina Niemann at No. 2 singles, Urbana’s Aaliya Hussain and Sophie Nielson at No. 1 doubles, Middletown’s Tessa Hauser and Eleanor Kaminski at No. 2 doubles and Urbana’s Jordan Hyde and Mahack Kazmi at No. 3 doubles.
On the boys side, after Li, the county champions were Urbana’s Charles Lowery at No. 2 singles, Kevin Lige and Richard Lombardo at No. 1 doubles; Anish Babu and Van Holson at No. 2 doubles; and Bassem Rafiq and Saket Thakrar at No. 3 doubles.