It is sometimes hard to believe that Biyik Akinshemoyin has only been playing tennis for four years. After all — since first picking up a racket at age twelve — the Reservoir junior has already won a pair of Howard County and regional titles, and earned his second straight Howard County Player of the Year honors.
But then again, there are other times when it becomes evident how much Akinshemoyin still has to learn, and how much better he could eventually be.
For example, while playing against Wootton's Mateo Cevalles for the state championship last month, Akinshemoyin made a costly mistake. Although he hydrated with water and sports drinks before and during the match, it wasn't enough, and he had to default in the third set due to debilitating cramping in his left quad muscle.
But while the match, and a coveted state championship, were lost, the message was not.
"No one likes the way it ended, because the match was very interesting (tied 3-3 in the third set) and everyone wanted to see how it ended," he said. "But for me I just take it as a lesson. You have to stay hydrated and I've been working on that."
Since the state tournament, Akinshemoyin has been using new techniques to stay hydrated, such as drinking Pedialyte, an electrolyte solution.
And as long as Akinshemoyin can stay on the court, he is capable of being one of the best.
At the recent Battle of the Burg USTA Mid-Atlantic championship tournament in Fredericksburg, Va., Akinshemoyin defeated Walt Whitman sophomore Aries Wong, who defeated Cevalles during an undefeated regular season, and went on to win a state doubles title.
While Akinshemoyin has a busy USTA tournament schedule ahead of him this summer, next year he will once again have to make the difficult decision of whether or not he can fit high school tennis into his routine.
Not one to cut corners or turn his back on his teammates, Akinshemoyin was there everyday for Gators' tennis practices.
"He has been the epitome of a high school sportsman," coach Karen Wolfe said. "Some kids will go to their training centers and ignore the teams and then just come and play matches. He's there everyday for practices. ... He hits with every kid on the team, boys, girls, it doesn't matter if they're freshmen or seniors. They're a part of the team and he feels privileged to be on the team."
There were struggles, as the Reservoir boys won only one match this season, despite Akinshemoyin winning each of his county matches handily.
"I don't feel good when I won the match but the team lost," he said. "I felt that I had to give back to the team."
And, rather than looking at high school practice as a chore or a sacrifice, even though he was rarely tested, Akinshemoyin cherished the experience.
"Everyone likes being tested," said Akinshemoyin, who added that he relished his regular season duels with Atholton's Scott Lee and Howard's Andrew Pagan. "(But) I enjoyed playing Reservoir tennis. It was a blast meeting new people: freshmen, players from other countries. This year went very well."
Akinshemoyin especially enjoyed hitting with Swedish exchange student Annie Evaldsson, who placed third at both counties and regions, and Gators' junior Deepak Salem, who didn't have much individual success at No. 2 singles, but made progress all season.
"I worked with him, and when he beat (his) Wilde Lake (opponent) in the last match, for him to win that match made me very happy," Akinshemoyin said.
Also named to the all-county team:
Brooks Chilcoat, Marriotts Ridge. Teamed up with defending girls double county finalist Nicole Leaf to finish the regular season 15-0 at mixed doubles.
Seth Hoesman, Howard. Led the Lions to their most successful season in school history, winning a share of the team county title. Teamed up with Andrew Pagan to win county and regional titles and an opening-round match at the state tournament.
Byron Hung, Glenelg. The sophomore led the Gladiators to a 9-8 regular season, then teamed with his freshman sister Rita to advance to the county and regional finals and a berth in the state tournament.
Scott Lee, Atholton. Gave Akinshemoyin some of his toughest matches this season, including competitive clashes in the county and regional finals. Also led the Raider boys to a 14-3 record and advanced to the state tournament.
Andrew Pagan, Howard. Teamed with Hoesman in the singles spots to lead Howard to its best season in school history, and then joined forces with Hoesman in doubles play to win county and regional titles and an opening round match in the state tournament.
Kyle Shope, Howard. An important piece of Howard's county championship run, Shope added depth and versatility with his ability to play singles or doubles. Partnered with Emma Hoesman in the postseason to win county and regional mixed doubles titles before placing a strong third at the state tournament.
Chase Weinberg, Centennial. After winning county and regional boys doubles titles a year ago, Weinberg primarily played singles this year as a junior, leading the Eagles to a 10-5 record. Also placed third at regionals.
James Zhan, River Hill. A top singles player last year, Zhan teamed with fellow senior Oliver Zhao this season at doubles and found great success. The duo helped the Hawks to a 16-1 regular season record and a share of the county title and then, after losing close matches to Hoesman and Pagan in the county and regional finals, placed fourth at the state tournament.
Oliver Zhao, River Hill. The doubles specialist teamed with Zhan to go on a prolific postseason run, losing competitive matches in the county and regional finals and placing fourth at the state tournament as one of only three county entries to make it to the second day.
Nick Zhu, River Hill. Came through with an impressive rookie campaign, leading the Hawks at No. 1 singles to a 16-1 record and a share of the county title, and placing third at the county tournament.