Coolidge's Khalen Cumberlander pumped his fist after making free throws to lead his team to a 51-49 upset of Montrose Christian on January 26, 2012 in Washington, DC. (Mark Gail/THE WASHINGTON POST)

But after a banner year, a school-record number of wins, upsets over top local teams and a DCIAA title, Coolidge earned a spot in Thursday’s National High School Invitational at Georgetown Prep. And though their storybook season came to end in a 79-44 loss to Findlay Prep, ranked No. 2 in the nation by ESPN, Coolidge players held their heads high.

“It’s been a great experience this year,” said Coolidge senior Khalen Cumberlander, who led the Colts with 13 points. “We went though a lot of obstacles at first, tough losses to two great Baltimore teams. We came together, went on a winning streak.”

Coolidge (29-8) played tough, physical defense in the first quarter against Findlay Prep, a team that has only two players under 6 feet 4 and boasts two McDonald’s all-Americans. The Colts trailed Findlay Prep, 14-12, with 1 minute 20 seconds left in the first quarter after a three-pointer by sophomore Nijee Britton (eight points).

But Findlay Prep’s size and depth proved too much for Coolidge. Senior center Maurice Jeffers and junior forward Jade Dade each had five rebounds.

“It was an opportunity of a lifetime to participate in something like this,” Coolidge Coach Vaughn Jones said. “We just didn’t play well but that’s a big credit to Findlay. They did a great job, especially in the second half.”

With an ambitious schedule and a core of talented players, Coolidge did its part this season to help change the image of the DCIAA, a league that has lost some of its luster and talent from years past. The Colts played games against Patterson (the Maryland 3A title winner) and Baltimore’s Dunbar (the 1A champion), and had two upsets of top local private schools, Montrose Christian and Riverdale Baptist. They fell to top-ranked Paul VI by only six points in the Abe Pollin City Title Game.

“For me, to be honest, I really didn’t think we’d come to this time,” Coolidge senior guard Charles McDaniel said. “But it was a pleasure being here and I was excited to play. And the outcome wasn’t what anyone on our side wanted, but as coach said, a loss is a loss and sometimes you gotta take it.”