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Wootton plays essentially all day to capture another 4A tennis title

Wootton singles player Helen Sarikulaya prepares to return the ball in the MPSSAA girls' finals match on Saturday. (Aaron Credeur/TWP)
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Wootton senior Helen Sarikulaya was still sweating when she hoisted the trophy and panted her congratulations to the rest of the team. Like the other players who made it to Maryland tennis state finals Saturday, she had just finished her third match over the course of a grueling 12-hour day.

Inclement weather earlier in the week prompted the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association to schedule the Class 3A and 4A quarterfinals, semifinals and finals for the same day at Wilde Lake Tennis Club in Columbia, leaving the winners ecstatic but physically drained by the end of it.

With crowded courts throughout the day, Sarikulaya went to the parking lot between matches to stay loose.

“I just went down to where the buses are with my teammate,” Sarikulaya said. “There’s no net, so it was kind of just all over the place. But I was able to get my wrist moving and get my momentum going.

“I’ve been here since 8:30 [a.m.],” she continued — after the sun had set. “ … So it’s been a long day for sure.”

Her makeshift warmups worked. Sarikulaya advanced through the tournament to win her second girls’ singles title in a row, contributing, along with boys’ singles winner Jakob Esterowitz, to the team’s 46-35 win over Blair in the 4A team competition.

After two years of limited competition, Esterowitz, a senior who won the title his freshman year, was especially thrilled to be back on the court competing for gold with the Patriots.

“I was down [in the finals], and I had to get over a little mental block,” Esterowitz said. “And then my team was screaming in the background to cheer me, and it was all up from there. They’re making jokes behind the fence; they’re making fun of me. It puts a smile on my face.”

Esterowitz’s performance was all the more impressive after he bounced back from a broken wrist early in the season. Wootton Coach Nia Cresham said that type of resilience was key to his players becoming champions.

“This is huge for us because we have been fighting injuries all season long,” Cresham said. “We just overcame a lot. They just came back, and they kicked butt.”

In the 3A competition, River Hill demonstrated dominance across the board, beating Howard, 63-29.

For junior Alex Artazov, the win was all about the comeback. After barely missing out on a championship last year and enduring a far-from-perfect season, River Hill relied on its depth to carry it through a gantlet of tough matchups, fielding players in four of the five finals matches.

“I feel like we were a lot more motivated this year, because last year we were undefeated and this year we got third [in the regular season]," he said. "So we definitely felt like we needed this a lot more than last year.”

In Class 2A, Poolesville defeated C. Milton Wright, 58-48.