Reservoir's Biyik Akinshemoyin wanted to go on, but in the end, his body simply wouldn't let him.
After more than ten sets, and almost 100 games, of tennis, Akinshemoyin's left quad muscle seized up for a second time, forcing him to injury default in the third set of the state championship match against Wootton's Mateo Cevalles, Saturday at the University of Maryland, College Park.
"I wanted to keep playing, but unfortunately I couldn't because it was my second injury time out,” said the junior, who was trying to become Howard County’s first boys state champion since Wilde Lake’s David Nguyen won in 2006. “I guess my body gave way, it couldn't take any more punishment. ... We're only humans, I'm not an alien.”
Despite the heartbreaking end to his season, Akinshemoyin was gracious and even jovial after having to retire, thanking his fans, coach and family for their support.
“It's an honor playing states again, just making it here again is a blessing,” said Akinshemoyin, who placed fourth last year. “You've got to think about the other people along the way who weren't able to make it, so I'm really grateful and proud of myself for a job well done.”
After dropping the first set of the finals, 7-5, Akinshemoyin battled out of a 5-4 hole to win the second set, 7-6, by tiebreaker. Then he broke Cevalles' serve on his way to a 2-1 lead in the third set. But after a serve in the fourth game, Akinshemoyin froze and howled in pain, calling for the trainer.
His left quad muscle had cramped up painfully. After the trainer massaged the knot out of his muscle, he managed to get back to his feet and close out the game to take a 3-1 lead. But while he was able to move side-to-side and hit the ball well from the baseline, he was stepping gingerly, and clearly having trouble charging the net and retreating.
“Getting to the net was starting to bother the inside of my quad, so I couldn't really do anything about that,” he said.
Cevalles won game five handily, and then tied the set at 3-3. While Akinshemoyin was having his leg issues, Cevalles also seemed to be tiring from the long day, missing several serves and hitting a few balls into the net. If Akinshemoyin could just hang in there, it seemed, he might be able to win three more games to become state champion.
“Part of Biyik's learning — he's only been at this for four years — is that when he's starting to play these excellent players like Mateo, what it means to hang with them until you can push through to get that winning point,” coach Karen Wolfe said.
And Akinshemoyin seemed to be just at that threshhold. But then, with another painful bout of cramping, his tournament came to an end.
“It was a tough match. A lot of long, physical rallies, and I guess in the end his legs were just done,” said Cevalles, who said that he has twice beaten Akinshemoyin in USTA play. “This was the best match we've played ... I didn't want it to end that way. Well, I did and I didn't. I did because I'm a little tired myself, but at the same time it's the state championship and you don't want it to end like that, you want to actually win it.”
With temperatures approaching 90 degrees, Akinshemoyin wasn't the only athlete to run into trouble during the tournament. In fact, Akinshemoyin won Friday's quarterfinal match with the third set tied 5-5 when his Walter Johnson opponent had to call it quits after cramping up. Atholton's Scott Lee also had to default from his opening round match in the third set with cramping.
Aside from Akinshemoyin, Howard County's only representatives on the second day of the tournament were Howard's mixed doubles team of Emma Hoesman and Kyle Shope, and River Hill's boys doubles team of James Zhan and Oliver Zhao.
Hoesman and Shope lost in three sets to the eventual champion (Wootton's Aishu Iyer and Julian Mu) in the semifinals, but bounced back to defeat North Hagerstown's Mollie Johnson and Max Ober in straight sets for third place.
“We surpassed my expectations. I thought I was going to come here and lose in the first round, but I was glad to come out here and medal, it's great,” said Shope, who plans to play tennis for Gettysburg next year. “We play great together and (Emma) will be back next year and the year after that, so hopefully she can win it.
“The first couple of times we played there would be that awkward ball down the middle and we would look at each other and let it go, but now we know how much court each other covers,” he added.
Like Shope, River Hill's Zhan and Zhao had both already graduated from high school by the time the state tournament rolled around, so just getting to wear the school colors one more time was a thrill.
“It's kind of funny. Technically we're not even in high school anymore,” said Zhan, who along with Zhao placed fourth at the state tournament after losing to the eventual champion in the semifinals. “This was actually my first time ever making it to states so this was good for me.”
Zhao went to states last year, playing with a different doubles partner, but he and Zhan had the experience of playing together as sophomores.
“I'm really happy with the way we played up to this point, it's been a great season ... our chemistry really clicked right from the beginning,” Zhao said. “It was pretty disappointing to lose (in the final match), but I'm happy to get as far as we did.”
Howard's Seth Hoesman and Andrew Pagan, the Howard County boys doubles champions, lost a hard fought three-set match to Wootton's Gabriel Fan and Titas Bera in Friday's quarterfinal. Fan and Bera were also the team that defeated Zhan and Zhao in the consolation final.
Atholton freshman Victoria Kogan, who won both the Howard County girls singles championship and regional title without dropping a set, fell in straight sets in the opening round to Bethesda-Chevy Chase's Anna Rozenberg, who ended up making a run all the way to the finals.
Wilde Lake sophomore Melissa Barall, who placed fourth last year in mixed doubles, won her opening round match this year in the girls singles bracket, but then lost in three sets in the quarterfinals.
In girls doubles, Centennial’s Megan Mishra and Isabel Yu upset Broadneck’s top-seeded team in the opening round, but fell in straight sets to Whitman’s Nicole Gottret and Nicole Welch in the quarterfinals.
Gottret and Welch went on to win the state title without dropping a set. Mt. Hebron's Sahini Pothireddy and Serene Mathew also lost in the quarterfinals after winning in the opening round.
Read on for complete Howard County results, or click here for the final brackets.
State tournament (May 25 and 26 at the University of Maryland, College Park)
Championship: Mateo Cevalles (Wootton) def. Biyik Akinshemoyin (Re), 7-5, 6-7 (2-7), 3-3 (inj. def.).
Semifinal: Akinshemoyin def. Robert Renfrow (Leonardtown).
Quarterfinal: Akinshemoyin def. Jordan Krasner (Walter Johnson), 7-5, 4-6, 5-5 (inj. def.).
Opening round: Akinshemoyin def. Eric Hurwitz (Towson), 6-3, 6-1; Jacob Bittner (Mountain Ridge) def. Scott Lee (A), 4-6, 6-3, 4-1 (inj. def.).
Quarterfinals: Victoria Quang (Bel Air) def. Melissa Barall (WL), 2-6, 6-4, 6-1.
Opening round: Barall def. Kristi Wong (Kent Island), 7-5, 6-1; Anna Rozenberg (Bethesda-Chevy Chase) def. Victoria Kogan (A), 6-2, 6-2.
Consolation: Gabriel Fan and Titas Bera (Wootton) def. James Zhan and Oliver Zhao (RH), 7-5, 6-4.
Semifinals: Sean Ngo and Aries Wong (Whitman) def. Zhan and Zhao, 6-2, 6-2.
Quarterfinals: Zhan and Zhao def. Tyler Cook and David Beck (Havre de Grace), 6-2, 6-1; Fan and Bera def. Seth Hoesman and Andrew Pagan (Ho), 3-6, 7-5, 6-4.
Opening round: Zhan and Zhao def. Tim Anderson and Matt Guyton (Walkersville), 6-4, 6-1; Hoesman and Pagan def. Matt Hardesty and Brian Bartholomew (Liberty), 6-0, 6-2.
Quarterfinals: Nicole Gottret and Nicole Welch (Whitman) def. Megan Mishra and Isabel Yu (C), 6-1, 6-0; Rachael Holehouse and Anna Holehouse (Fallston) def. Sahini Pothireddy and Serene Mathew (MH), 6-0, 6-2.
Opening round: Mishra and Yu def. Allie Burt and Danielle Naftali (Broadneck), 6-2, 6-4; Pothireddy and Mathew def. Divina St. Peter and Lashaun Caesar (Laurel), 6-3, 6-2.
Consolation: Emma Hoesman and Kyle Shope (Ho) def. Rachel Land and Tyler Collins (Huntingtown), 6-1, 6-3.
Semifinals: Aishu Iyer and Julian Mu (Wootton) def. Hoesman and Shope, 6-4, 5-7, 6-0.
Quarterfinals: Hoesman and Shope def. Morgan Kelley and Ian Kelley (J.M. Bennett), 6-4, 6-2.
Opening round: Hoesman and Shope def. Chante Lambert and Damani Eubanks (C.H. Flowers), 6-3, 6-2; Brittany Simmons and Alexander Stevenson (Bowie) def. Lu-Fang Hung and Fa-Yueh Hung (G), 3-6, 6-4, 6-1.