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:
Alec Angradi, River Hill. The freshman burst onto the scene, playing a key role in the Hawks' 17-0 season and then advancing to the county finals and placing third at regionals.
Max Balter, Howard. Helped the Lions to a solid 12-4 season, then joined teammate Emma Hoesman to advance to the county and regional finals and win a match at the state tournament before being eliminated by the eventual champion.
Cade Buch, Marriotts Ridge. Opened eyes during a freshman campaign in which he led the Mustangs to 13 wins and placed third at countys and fourth at regions.
Kevin Hsieh, Centennial. Joined fellow senior Chase Weinberg to repeat as boys doubles county champs after a one-year hiatus. The teammates also placed second at regions and third at the state tournament and led the Eagles to 13 wins.
Byron Hung, River Hill. Led the undefeated Hawks to the county championship, then teamed with Nick Zhu to place third in boys doubles at the county and regional tournaments.
Scott Lee, Atholton. A returning county and regional finalist, Lee mixed things up this season by joining teammate Jenna Sweet to win county and regional mixed doubles titles. Also placed fourth at the state tournament.
George Mao, Atholton. Formed a powerful doubles team with freshman teammate Matt Sklar, winning a hard fought regional title, advancing to the county finals and winning a match at the state tournament.
Andrew Pagan, Howard. One of the top singles players in the county, Pagan led the Lions to 12 wins, then bounced back from a subpar county tournament performance to make the regional finals and battle defending state champion Mateo Cevallos in the opening round of the state tournament.
Matt Sklar, Atholton. One of several promising rookies in the league, Sklar won a regional title alongside teammate George Mao to qualify for the state tournament.
Chase Weinberg, Centennial. Helped lead the Eagles to 13 wins, then joined teammate Kevin Hsieh to win a boys doubles county title, advance to the regional finals, and place third at the state tournament.
Nick Zhu, River Hill. One of several young and talented Hawks, Zhu was an integral part of River Hill's 17-0 regular season, and also joined Byron Hung to place third in boys doubles at the county and region tournaments.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun