He held is face in his hands after one of his players threw a risky pass that went out of bounds. He stomped the floor a bit harder than usual and his tone was slightly more urgent when pleading with a referee for a foul call on an opposing player.

There appeared to be a spike in passion for South Lakes Coach Wendell Byrd, and following his team's 55-49 loss to Westfield in a AAA Northern Region first-round playoff game Monday, it was easy to understand why: The loss marked the end of Byrd's 23-year career at the school.

Byrd had announced before the season that he would be retiring.

"You try to prepare yourself for this moment, but in this tournament, you really can't," said Byrd, who finished with 441 career wins, all at South Lakes. "You hope that your season doesn't end until you get to the Patriot Center [host of the tournament's semifinals and final]. This was a tough game; a tough loss. If a couple of calls had gone our way, or if we could have executed a bit differently at several points, things might have ended differently. Our players played hard and did everything we asked of them.

"With this group of talented juniors on this team, I could have stayed. But I'm happy with the decision I made before the season. I wanted to stay this year for these seniors, because they are just such special people."

Guard Monte Smith is one of six seniors on the team.

"We played as hard as we could," Smith said. "Coach Byrd coached a great game. It's tough having to go out this way."

Westfield Coach Doug Ewell said Byrd is the coach that he and all other coaches aspire to.

"I told him before the game that he really is the Dean Smith of coaching around here," Ewell said. "He set the standard for everyone. For him, status quo is to be at a level way above everyone else."

Bulldogs junior wing Maurice Hubbard acknowledged Byrd's great career.

"When you look at the history of basketball around here, Byrd's name is really big," he said.

Byrd's six region titles at South Lakes are matched by T.C. Williams and former Alexandria high school George Washington.