Jessica Kelley remembers when she had to volley against the coach at tennis practice — because frankly, there was no other player close in skill set on the girls' tennis team at Frederick High School.
She also remembers the day Chasen Marinoff joined the team and everything changed.
The Warriors, in their fifth season as a girls' tennis program, are a year removed from quashing the narrative of being an easy win on most schedules. They won six dual meets in 2018 after totaling only five the previous three seasons, per MaxPreps.
Even more in 2018, they sent their first two qualifiers to the state tennis tournament in Marinoff and Kelley. Now, with them back for one more run, the two competitors and friends are out to prove more.
"I want to give a name to Frederick," Kelley said. "My freshman and sophomore year nobody knew who Frederick was in tournaments. They were like, 'Oh it's just Frederick. We can beat them'. But then as soon as I got better and Chasen came in, I want to give our school a name. I want people to know we're good at tennis and they have to fear us."
Frederick sprung out of tennis anonymity last year thanks to a perfect storm of really, really good timing. Mark Allen, the boys' tennis coach from inception, took over the girls' team last year and brought a more competitive attitude. Marinoff transferred from Horizon, where she was a singles player. And Kelley came in much improved.
The result was a one-two punch that could go pound-for-pound with some the better talent around the state. As well, it was a trickle-down from Allen to Marinoff and Kelley all the way to the lower-seeded players — that, yes, the Warriors were no longer a team that came just to "participate" at duals and tournaments.
It was time to win.
"I don't like to lose," Allen said he told his varsity players. "I said, 'You guys got to stop just playing to play and play to win.' And I think they took it to heart.
"And to be honest with you, we were 6-6 but we should have been 9-3. We lost three matches by one point, basically lost 4-3. So, I even said that, I said 'I'm happy with 6-6, but I'm not thrilled.' We should be better than that and they were all fired up about that."
Up top, Marinoff and Kelley are looking to return to the Class 3A state tournament and go on deeper runs after losing their first-round matches last spring. As for 'Who will be No. 1?' and 'Who will be 2?' That's undecided as tryouts are ongoing.
Last year, Kelley started the season as the No. 1 player but was later supplanted by Marinoff. Both players said their primary focus in playing each other is to get better. The rest will unfold as it may.
"Obviously Jessica was 1-singles before I got there and it was kind of expected that we were going to be rivals," Marinoff said before letting out a chuckle. "Our yearbook (staff) wanted us to be rivals.
"But we ended up being the top two players on the team, so we had to play a lot of challenge matches to figure out spots. And we kind of came to the conclusion that we are really different players but we're at a very similar level. We hang out a lot and became really close friends — and yeah, the rivalry thing never happened. We ended up just being able to grow our game off each other for the benefit of both of us and for the benefit of our team."
Good for them. And good for Frederick.
Brent W. New: email@example.com or @brentwnew.