For over a decade, rivals have found the dynasty that is this school’s boys’ and girls’ tennis teams to be nearly unbeatable. When the teams take the court to defend their spot atop Maryland tennis this spring, they will face two new opponents- the recent graduations of two state champions and major rule changes designed to level the playing field.
With recent stars and three-time state champions Joseph Brailovsky (Class of 2018) and Miranda Deng (Class of 2017) competing at the collegiate level, two rosters deep with talent but light in experience will have big shoes to fill. “Any time you have a seasoned player like that who is not only a phenomenal player but they’ve reached their senior year, they’ve got their experience, they play tournaments and team tennis, they’re leaders on the team, then losing them is a huge blow,” coach Nia Cresham said. “Brailovsky commanded a certain respect automatically, and Miranda did too, but they were not just players but exceptional leaders.”
While the effects of those two departures will be felt even beyond this spring, a seismic shift in the tennis schedule will pose the greatest threat to the Patriots’ title hopes. The girls’ tennis season, which had been held in the fall for over a half-century in MCPS, was moved to the spring, meaning both the boys’ and girls’ teams will be competing at the same time. The logistics of dividing practice time and match schedules are ongoing challenges, but the change also forced Cresham, the longtime coach for both the boys’ and girls’ teams, to cede the coaching position for the girls’ team and hire one of her former players, Mateo Cevalos. Another rule change that works against the Patriots is the reduction of entries for the state championships from six doubles pairs to three. Now, the ridiculous feat of having a Patriots vs. Patriots state championship, something that actually happened one year, will be impossible. These changes, passed by a new rules committee with the intent of diversifying the counties represented in the state championship, are designed to stifle the exact type of dynasty exemplified by our school’s program.
These obstacles have hardly fazed this year’s teams and certainly haven’t lowered their standards and ultimate objective. While neither team will return a state champion this season, the teams boast remarkable depth and could see major contributions from a promising freshman class. The stiffest on-court competition remains the same, with Whitman, Churchill and RM as top challengers for the county throne, and the goal hasn’t changed either. “The goal is the same as any other year – win counties, win regionals, win states,” singles player Nick Huynh said, “It’s not unrealistic to feel that way.”
Perhaps reason number one that this Patriots dynasty could have staying power in the tumultuous tennis landscape is an aspect that is the program’s greatest strength – a special team camaraderie that has set the program apart from others across the state and made winning a constant in spite of the endless cycle of player turnover. “Frankly, we’ve always had team camaraderie,” Cresham said, “A lot of the other top schools, it’s not anywhere near that. When you go to states, Wootton already has 35 kids watching each game. We are known at the state level that we support each other and when we go to states, there’s a huge contingent of Wootton people. It’s a huge advantage.”