The faces were glum along the La Plata bench after River Hill clinched its 31-18 win over the Warriors in the 4A/3A state dual wrestling championship Tuesday night in Clarksville.
But soon after the meet had ended, the good memories of the Warriors' improbable dual-meet season began to slowly sink in.
"Yeah, it's disappointing, but we've done more than we ever expected," said junior 140-pounder Brandon Jennings. "We came in here wanting to win, but at the same time, second in the state is quite an achievement."
La Plata defeated Chesapeake, 39-26, in Tuesday's semifinal to advance to the final. In the end, though, a strong, athletic River Hill squad proved too much for La Plata, and the Hawks won their first state wrestling title.
Even with the loss, La Plata had its best team season in years. After winning the Southern Maryland Athletic Conference regular-season title and clinching its first region title since 1997, the Warriors took the SMAC tournament championship last Saturday for the first time in 18 seasons.
The Warriors seemed to cherish every moment of the season -- which ended with a 17-1 dual-meet record. The wrestlers, coaches and even some family members bleached their hair to celebrate the success, while larger, more boisterous crowds followed the team to its meets.
"It has definitely been a lot of fun," Jennings said. "There is so much that we can take from this. Just the experience of being here [at the state tournament] means a lot."
The championship meet began in the 189-pound category, and River Hill took control behind both their heavyweights and lightweights. River Hill's Mikey Lignelli beat Anthony Romero in the first bout, and Jesse Fawcett beat La Plata's John Payne in overtime in the 215-pound match.
After a pin by heavyweight Stephen Humphrey, a 5-0 decision for 103-pounder Vince Cina and a 10-4 decision for 112-pounder Bryan Hartman, River Hill had built an 18-0 lead. La Plata never recovered.
Joey Farrell (119 pounds) and Zach Jones (130 pounds) picked up decisions for La Plata, but a crafty River Hill team never let the Warriors come close to a pin until Matt Szoch stuck the Hawks' David Frye in the 152-pound match. By that point, River Hill had already clinched the win.
"They really took it to us," La Plata Coach Todd Sharp said. "They've got a lot of really good athletes, and they're very well coached. We had been winning the close ones, but tonight they got the close ones."
After losing the first match in the closely contested semifinal against Chesapeake, La Plata won the next four. John Payne won a forfeit at 215 pounds, and heavyweight Eric Jobe pinned his opponent in the first period.
Lightweights Steven Gilliam and Eric Stup won tough decisions for an 18-4 lead.
Chesapeake won five of the next seven matches to cut it to 27-26 with two matches remaining. But La Plata's Clint Smith pinned Josh Hall in the first minute of the 160-pound match to clinch the victory.
"We may be a little disappointed right now," Sharp said. "But when we get some time to relax, the guys will realize more what they achieved this year."