Even in defeat, La Plata freshman Daniel Barnas was all smiles as he walked off the court at the state tennis tournament Saturday.
Barnas had suffered a hard-fought, 7-5, 6-3 loss to Richard Montgomery All-Met Michael Goodwin in the consolation final under a sweltering sun. His efforts were rewarded with a fourth-place trophy, but he also left the University of Maryland with something else, maybe even more significant: confidence.
Barnas proved he belonged on the high school game's biggest stage. He began the season with modest aspirations, and he surpassed every one of them.
"I just wanted to have a good record and make it to the state tournament and maybe get to play one match, and I knew even that was iffy," Barnas said. "I just wanted to experience what the state tournament is like."
But Barnas ended up experiencing a lot more as the conference and Region IV champion came within two matches of capping an undefeated season with a state title. Barnas (22-2) opened the tournament by defeating Kent Island's Jake Franklin and C.M. Wright's Roger Torres before falling to eventual champion and All-Met Jared Pinsky of Churchill in the semifinals, 6-1, 6-3, and Goodwin in the consolation match.
A few minutes after Barnas was presented with his plaque, senior teammates Jocelyn Gay and Matt Chisolm earned the third-place plaque in mixed doubles after their opponents, River Hill's Jackie and Matt Davidson withdrew from the match in the second set when Jackie re-aggravated a right knee injury.
But La Plata's trio were the only players from the Southern Maryland Athletic Conference who did not leave empty handed. In the state tournament's five events -- boys' and girls' singles, boys' and girls' doubles and mixed doubles -- which were composed of 16 entries, the conference's four singles players and eight doubles teams collectively went 7-11, and only Barnas, Gay and Chisolm advanced past the quarterfinals.
"I think we definitely put La Plata tennis on the map, and it was pretty cool to make it this far because we never expected it," said Chisolm, whose unseeded mixed doubles team upset the tournament's second seed before falling in three sets to Paint Branch's Katrina Aben and Eric Sundstrom.
"We made an awesome team and even when we lost, we were just a couple of games away from winning," Gay said. "I think we had a great year."
Lackey's Kelly Lai defeated Eleanor Roosevelt's Whitney Ambush in the first round Friday but was eliminated by Catonsville's Ashley Harvey, 6-1, 6-2. The conference's only other victory occurred in boys' doubles, when the Patuxent team of Jeff Ocker and Justin Benedik defeated Fallston's Joaquin Ezcurra and Chris Morrison in straight sets before losing to Walter Johnson's Oliver Gaines and B.J. Sky in the quarterfinals, 6-2, 6-3.
"The competition here at the state tournament and the draw is going tough, but that's the way it should be when you have the best players in the state all trying to win a state title," Barnas said. "It was a great experience for me, and I want to come back here next year after coming so close this time. There were a couple of close games that I lost that if I could've won, the whole thing might have been different. I'll know what to expect next time."