Each of the past two seasons, Reservoir's Biyik Akinshemoyin has had to make the difficult decision of whether to play high school tennis, or forego the scholastic season to focus on a rigorous but fruitful training regiment and busy USTA tournament schedule.
Prior to his senior season, though, Akinshemoyin needed less than ten seconds to decide that he would wear a Reservoir uniform for his last year of high school.
"Immediately after I lost last year (in the state finals) I told myself there's no way I can let it end like this," said Akinshemoyin, who had to retire due to leg cramps in the third set of last year's state championship match against Wootton's Mateo Cevallos. "I just needed to stay positive and stay in shape."
A little over one year from that moment, the decision to try again still brings a bright smile to Akinshemoyin's face.
On May 25, at the University of Maryland, Akinshemoyin earned a state a championship rematch with Cevallos and delivered a stunning performance, winning emphatically in straight sets, 6-2, 6-1, with the final point coming on a booming ace.
"He was just so focused this year, he worked really hard on just improving his patience. He was less prone to being aggressive at the wrong times this year and that kept him in points," said coach Karen Wolfe, who has Akinshemoyin as a student aide at Reservoir. "Of course with his fitness and his court coverage he just did a phenomenal job this whole tournament, and the mental toughness that he had just staying focused was really good."
The weeks since have been a blur for Akinshemoyin, the Columbia Flier/ Howard County Times boys tennis Player of the Year.
"It's been hectic, fun, but at the same time ... it's a good feeling," he said. "I've been getting a lot of acknowledgments from friends and classmates."
Akinshemoyin has become somewhat of a sensation at Reservoir, a school not known for its tennis tradition, over the past three years. His height, powerful strokes and athleticism make him at times seem invulnerable on the court, and although he more often than not lived up to his reputation, Akinshemoyin says that the pressure to win was sometimes more than he let on.
Especially after his freshman year, when he was in a car accident that left him sidelined with back spasms. While driving with his father in busy D.C. traffic near Beltsville, the Akinshemoyins were rear ended.
"The accident was very horrible and unexpected," the younger Akinshemoyin said. "Thank God I bounced back and here I am today.
"(People) don't know how hard it is to win a match. It's a struggle, I've been humbled," he said. "I want people to remember me not necessarily as the nicest guy, but I want people to remember my character. I was a nice, respectful person ... that I showed good sportsmanship and that I did work for Howard County and Reservoir."
In fact, you'd be hard pressed to find a more personable state champion than Akinshemoyin, who always took time out to thank his numerous fans and supporters, including his parents and coach Wolfe.
"You could see by the way the kids reacted, his relationship with the kids at the school is just so positive," Wolfe said. "The thing that I'm going to remember is how much he wanted it for the school ... tennis is such an individual sport and he wanted to play high school tennis because he wanted to have a team experience."
Although the Reservoir boys won only six matches in his three seasons, next year Akinshemoyin will get to play alongside Centennial's Kevin Hsieh and Howard's Andrew Pagan among others at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.
"I'm very happy they'll be coming to UMBC with me as well, our friendship doesn't end after high school," he said.
Akinshemoyin has numerous academic interests, including computer engineering and neuropsychiatry, but dreams of traveling the world and helping the needy in third world countries. Ideally, he says, tennis could someday allow him to do that.
"In tennis you do all (the preparation) before the match," he said. "Tennis is like life."
Akinshemoyin's summer plans include visiting cousins in Minnesota, preparing for college, and playing in several tournaments, including the upcoming Battle in the Burg at Mary Washington.
Also named to the all-county team: