RM Tennis dominates in an unorthodox season

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The girls tennis team (yellow) sweeped Northwest in route to a fourth consecutive 7-0 victory.

Raha Murtuza, Sports Writer

In May, Montgomery County Public Schools released their Return to R.A.I.S.E plan, which detailed MCPS’s decision to return to high school athletics. Among the sports chosen to go back was girls’ and boys’ varsity tennis. It’s an understatement to say this season has been a strange one, bringing newfound challenges and victories. Despite the setbacks COVID has given the teams, both teams have gone undefeated so far and the girls have only lost one set the entire season.

“I think we have a huge shot at coming first,” sophomore and member of the girls’ tennis team Hrishita Mareddy said. “Obviously, a huge goal this year is to kinda relax a bit and have fun with everything that’s going on, but also to win.” As Coach Fahrner says, Our number one goal is to have fun… but it’s more fun when you’re winning.” Meanwhile, the boys team, although going undefeated, has had a harder time. “We struggled a bit individually early due to lack of play in the past year, but I believe we can pick it up to continue bringing strong convincing wins from now on,” sophomore Nick Bui said.

Last year, the players only had a couple of practices before the COVID came and the season was cut short. “We were off to a great start with a great line-up, then covid hit. I missed watching my players compete, [and] not competing in a County, Regional and State Championship for the [first] time in [over fifteen] years,” boys’ coach Mike Ashmead said. Now, the players have returned to the courts, but not everything is the same as it was before. 

Due to MCPS COVID protocol, the tennis teams were only able to start practice and matches against other schools in early May. Because Montgomery County is so vast, teams are placed into “pods.” Each pod consists of several schools, which are grouped based on location. RM is a Division 1 school, but is playing against schools at varying levels, some of which don’t even have tennis teams.

Another precaution being taken is mandatory masks at all times, even in a socially distanced sport like tennis. “We have to wear masks everywhere we go, and it really sucks because they get sweaty and it’s hard to breathe,” junior and member of the boys’ team Anbo Li said. “But we are in a pandemic, and it is a small sacrifice we have to make for the greater good.”

Our number one goal is to have fun… but it’s more fun when you’re winning”

— Coach Fahrner

Although sports don’t quite look like what they did pre-pandemic, the excitement elicited when MCPS announced their decision to return to sports was undeniable. When I heard that tennis was going to [be] in person, I honestly felt so happy,” Mareddy said. “It’s sort of like an escape, since it’s pretty much the only social interaction I’m getting, sadly.” Sophomore Phoebe Freeman expressed the same enthusiasm on the board’s decision. “I’m excited that the spring season gives me the opportunity to finally get back outside and see my friends and compete with other schools,” she said. 

Since MCPS’s decision was very sudden, some players had to prepare for the upcoming season quickly. “I started to play tennis regularly again like [two to three] months ago and am still working out the rust,” Bui said. Others, meanwhile, had been practicing throughout COVID. “I definitely feel prepared for the season,” Freeman said. “I played a lot during the off season, especially because it was one of the few sports that kept happening even when Covid cases were on the rise.” 

It may take a while for high school athletics to return to the way we knew them before the pandemic. But for the tennis teams, the spring season has given so much to them: a chance to socialize, enjoy the good weather and a sense of stability that’s been lacking the entire pandemic. As Freeman puts it, “It feels like things are starting to go back to normal.”

Ultimately, both the boys and girls tennis teams went undefeated in the season, winning all eight of their division matches. The girls tennis team was in a class of its own in the division, dropping only one matchup all season, with the team proceeding to sweep all seven matchups in seven of the eight matches. While the boys team escaped with a 4-3 victory in its opening match against Sherwood, it steamrolled the rest of the competition, winning at least six matchups in each of the remaining seven matches.