Dick Kemp had no intentions of breaking up a good thing.
But winning a second consecutive title wasn’t the only reason why Easton High’s longtime head tennis coach chose to keep Lucas Joshi and Aidan Steinly paired for the Class 2A East Region championships.
“I think they have a real shot at a state title,” Kemp said.
If Joshi and Steinly continue playing the way they did last Friday and Saturday Kemp may be right.
Losing only three games over three matches, Joshi and Steinly defeated Fallston’s Brad Richenderfer and Caden Ritchey, 6-2, 6-1, Saturday to win the boys’ doubles title at the Class 2A East championships at the Glasgow Tennis Complex in Cambridge, helping the Warriors win the overall team title.
“Everybody played extremely well,” Kemp said of his team, which will be represented in three of the five divisions when play begins today at 10 a.m. in the Class 2A state championships at the Wilde Lake Tennis Center in Columbia.
This year will mark the first time the state tournament will not bunch all four classifications into one bracket, moving away from the past format, where 1A and 2A players or doubles teams could face a 3A or 4A opponent from the opening round on. Instead, each of the state’s four classes will vie for separate state titles in all five divisions: boys’ and girls’ singles, boys’, girls’ and mixed doubles. Each division will have an eight-player (or team) draw, and there are no seedings.
The 1A and 2A tournaments are scheduled to play their quarterfinals and semifinals today. The 3A and 4A tournaments are slated to start Friday, with all four classes playing for their respective state titles on Saturday.
Kemp thinks this year’s new setup gives the Bayside Conference an opportunity to win its first state championship since Cambridge-South Dorchester’s Brendan Kincaid and Yusef Shariff won the boys’ doubles championship in 2003. Among those who Easton’s head coach thinks has a legitimate title shot is Queen Anne’s County sophomore Hugh Meehan, who defeated Easton’s Alex Matsche, 6-0, 6-0 in the regional boys’ singles final.
“Overall I thought I played pretty well,” said Meehan, who is undefeated in singles play this season. “I know I always have a second gear in me for the next level. I think I did what I needed to do down in regionals. We’ll see how states goes.”
Meehan’s first-round opponent last year at states was Thomas Wootton senior Joseph Brailovsky, who defeated the then Queen Anne’s freshman en route to his third straight state title.
“I remember that match a lot last year. Very good player, he went Division I if I remember,” Meehan said of Brailovsky, now playing for the University of South Carolina. “I thought I played well. I thought I left a little on the court and could have brought a little more to the match.
“I think I’ll take it to another gear on Thursday,” said Meehan, who will bid to become the first boys’ singles player from a Bayside school to win a state title since Stephen Decatur’s Chris Zielinski in 1998. “I’ve been kind of holding back a little bit. I feel good. I think I’m at a good spot. I’m playing a lot better than I did last year. So I’m excited to see how the competition turns out and maybe have a better shot at it this year.”
Joshi and Steinly probably feel the same way, especially after reaching last year’s state semifinals in boys’ doubles, losing 6-2, 6-0 to Richard Montgomery’s Justin Song and Arno Babcock, who eventually won the state title.
“Definitely their aggressiveness,” Kemp answered when comparing the 2019 Joshi-Steinly model to last year’s version. “They tend to take over the net and intimidate their opponents by being the more aggressive team. And as their confidence grew they became more aggressive. That’s the way doubles is meant to be played. They’ve definitely taken it to another level.
“It’s going to take a good team to beat them,” Kemp continued. “I’m sure their are good teams over there.”
Kemp has also been impressed by the play of his girls’ doubles team of Allison Cherwien and Anna Ewing, who outlasted Queen Anne’s Abby Blanchard and Claudia Leshinskie, 6-2, 7-6 (4) to win Saturday’s regional crown.
“They’re both going on that same track of being more into the net play, and taking over the game and making the opponents think about what they’re doing,” Kemp said of Cherwien and Ewing, who lost in last year’s first round. “If they play loose and free and confident, it’s easier to play well that way. With their extra confidence their consistency has gone up. I think they have also taken it to another level. They’re not at the state that Aidan and Lucas are at, but they’re getting it.”
Along with Joshi, Steinly and boys’ singles runner-up Matsche, Cherwien and Ewing will attempt to win Easton’s first state title in tennis since Katy Storch and Michelle Devine won three straight girls’ doubles championships from 1985-87. That last Bayside team to win a state championship in girls’ doubles was Cambridge-SD’s Heidi McWilliams and Abby Messick, who won consecutive titles in 1990 and ‘91.
Some may have thought the string of seven consecutive regional/district titles held by Kent Island in girls’ singles — courtesy of Kristi Wong (2012-14) and Catrina Coyner (2015-18) — would have ended this year. But Celina Kaufman surprised even her head coach Rick Tyng with her march to last Saturday’s regional championship.
“Celina has so much heart and tenacity,” Tyng said. “She never ceases to amaze me. The entire season she has not had a letdown. She’s not the most talented player out there, but, boy, she’s got the biggest heart, and the biggest desire to win. It’s incredible what she’s done.”
Seeded No. 2, Kaufman defeated No. 3 seed Karley McIlhatton of North East, 6-3, 6-3 in the semifinals, then beat top-seeded Maya Dedeaux of Harford Tech, 6-1, 6-4 in the final.
“Both these girls hit the snot out of the ball and Celina just kept on sending that ball back,” Tyng said of McIlhatton and Dedeaux. “And these girls were pretty consistent. She played some players over the course of the year, you could see the girls would get frustrated after three or four hits and just pound the ball out of frustration.
“So these girls, they were long 20, 25-hit rallies,” Tyng continued of Kaufman’s last two regional matches. “Celina just perseveres. You know, going into the state tournament I’m not going to bet against her. It’s amazing what she’s done.”
The Bayside has only won two state championships in girls’ singles, both provided by James M. Bennett’s Charlotte Haberstroh (1981, 1983).
Joining Kaufman today with be Kent Island’s mixed doubles team of Alec Coyner and Marisa Teti, who lost 6-3, 6-3 to Rising Sun’s Micah Thomas and Meghan Rohrer in the 2A East final.
Also competing in mixed doubles today, in the 1A tournament, will be St. Michaels’ Lydia Shreeves and Benny Rieck. The top-seeded tandem in last week’s 1A East tournament, Shreeves and Rieck, who weren’t paired by Saints head coach Jordan Miller until late in the season, defeated No. 10 seed Emily Marshall and Seth Tally of North Dorchester, 6-1, 6-3 for the regional title.
“Lydia was actually hurt, probably was out the last month of the season, but had had a lot of success in singles,” Miller said. “I thought she had really good hands at doubles and was doing well prior to her injury. And Benny had been playing pretty good doubles all year so I wanted to give them an opportunity to play together because they are both seniors and are also pretty good friends.”
The last Bayside team to win a state title in mixed doubles was Cambridge-SD’s Brooke Fleetwood and Shan Shariff in 1999, ending a four-year rule by the Bayside at states — Stephen Decatur’s Katie Gibbons teamed with Will Cathell (1996) Chris Zielinski (1997) and Greg Zielinski (1997).
Also playing today will be regional runners-up Alex Matsche of Easton (2A boys’ singles); Abby Blanchard and Claudia Leshinskie of Queen Anne’s County (2A girls’ doubles); Cambridge-SD’s Jonathan Knox and Jasper Hood (1A boys’ doubles); Colonel Richardson’s Katie Doetsch (1A girls’ singles); and North Dorchester’s Kirsten Blades and Jenna Usilton (1A girls’ doubles) and Emily Marshall and Seth Tally (1A mixed doubles).