Though Centennial freshman Ryan Lissner ended his season with his only loss, 6-4, 6-4, to Churchill's Jared Pinsky in the boys' singles state final Saturday, he is part of a new trend in local high school tennis.
Lissner, Pinsky and semifinalist Daniel Barnas of La Plata -- three freshman ranked in the top 15 in the mid-Atlantic region by the United States Tennis Association in their respective age groups -- each said they expect to be back on their high school teams next season.
In previous years, several of the state's top players did not compete for their high school teams because the level of competition was lower than that on the junior circuit.
Jared's older brother, Jason, a senior at Churchill, and Michael Coleman of Eleanor Roosevelt, two nationally ranked 18-and-under players, did not go back to their teams this season.
"High school tennis needs the best players to play for the teams at their schools because it's great for the game and great for their teammates who are around them," Centennial Coach Jean Vanderpool said. "In past years, we've had some really good players not come out for our team, and I'm sure that happened at a lot of other schools, too. But anybody who watched these matches saw some great tennis, and all of those boys could be back next year."
Though the competition Pinsky, Barnas and Lissner faced most of the season when they wore their school's uniforms paled compared with that on the USTA junior circuit, Saturday was an exception. Barnas is ranked 12th among boys 14-and-under in the region. Pinsky and Lissner are ranked fifth and ninth, respectively, in the 16-and-under division. The other semifinalist, Richard Montgomery junior Michael Goodwin, is fourth in the 18-and-under division.
"This was the best competition I played all year," Lissner said. "It was tough. These players play in some of the same national tournaments I do, and now we're all here trying to win the state title."
Though Lissner (27-1) failed to become the school's first freshman to win the state title in boys' singles, he did post a 6-4, 6-1 victory over previously undefeated Goodwin, the defending champion, in the semifinals.
"This year's freshmen are some of the best I've seen in my 27 years of coaching tennis," said Richard Montgomery Coach John Farmer. "Lissner just didn't miss, and there was nothing Michael could do about it, and he tried everything, like changing speed and coming to the net. The freshmen we have now are playing at a very high level of tennis."
Coaches say the recognition Lissner, Pinsky (18-4) and Barnas (22-2), who took fourth after falling to Goodwin (21-1) in the consolation final, earn by playing for their school's teams extends beyond the trophy they received for placing at the state tournament.
"They get to feel what it's like to be on a team, to wear their team's uniform to school and get recognized at a pep rally, and they don't get those things when they play by themselves," said Churchill Coach Ben Woods. "This is just a tremendous class of freshmen we have in the state right now, and this is good for the game because they are the future of tennis in Maryland."
As Lissner completed his first season as an Eagle, Glenelg's Julia Facchina completed her high school career by losing in the girls' singles final to Churchill sophomore Maggie McKeever, 7-5, 6-4, in what was Facchina's lone loss in 28 matches this season.
River Hill's mixed doubles team of sophomore Matt Davidson and senior Jackie Davidson placed fourth after retiring from a match against La Plata's Jocelyn Gay and Matt Chisolm when Jackie aggravated a knee injury. The Davidson siblings pulled one of the tournament's biggest upsets in a 6-3, 6-1 victory over top-seeded Kayla Raines and Josh Weiner of C. Milton Wright in Friday's quarterfinals.
"We just didn't have that special connection [on Saturday] that we had on Friday," Matt Davidson said. "I saw how much Jackie was hurting, and I thought we got as far as we could get, and getting fourth place in the whole state is still very good."
The River Hill boys' doubles team of junior Trevor Anderson and sophomore Scott Burtzlaff also placed fourth, falling to Pikesville's Zach Chavitz and Andrew Kaye in the consolation final, 3-6, 6-4, 7-5.
"I'll tell you what, Trevor and Scott got a taste of 'almost,' because they came close this year," River Hill Coach Matt Graves said. "If they work hard during the offseason, this is a tournament they can win next year."