TEMPLE CITY — Chances are, the freshman season for La Cañada High singles player Lucas Chmielewski came to a close on Thursday afternoon.
But the day certainly provided evidence that there are likely to be brighter days ahead for the Spartans tennis player.
Chmielewski defeated senior teammate Ryan Lee, 6-2, 6-0, to take third place at the Rio Hondo League Individual Tournament at Live Oak Park. His victory came not long after a 6-1, 6-7, 10-7 loss to top-seeded Danny Gealer, the eventual champion from San Marino.
“It’s pretty tough playing your teammate,” said Chmielewski, who will be a CIF Individual Tournament alternate, of facing Lee. “I’m kinda sorry that I beat him, but it was a really good day for me. I played some of my best tennis today.”
It was a sentiment echoed by La Cañada Coach Will Moravec.
“This is probably the best I’ve seen him play all year,” said Moravec, whose Spartans finished second in league and will begin play in the CIF Southern Section Division II playoffs next week. “He’s played good matches, but his game just came together today.”
Chmielewski, who said he’s known Gealer for some time, admitted that to come so close to an upset and lose was “disappointing,” but it was a positive overall.
“I view it, actually, as an accomplishment,” said Chmielewski of his loss to Gealer. “He’s always been an amazing player, so to come that close, even with a hurt shoulder like I have, is an accomplishment.”
The freshman’s performance was all the more impressive considering he rallied from a quick and lopsided 6-1 loss to Gealer in the first set. And, in the final super-tiebreaker third set, was tied at 7, before Gealer ran off the last three points.
“He just started playing smart,” said Moravec of Chmielewski. “He played defense when he should play defense and he attacked when he should attack.”
Having two La Cañada players battle it out was a likewise difficult situation for Moravec, who did no coaching or rooting during the third-place match.
“I just had to let them play,” Moravec said. “You gotta be neutral on a day like today and let the chips fall where they may.”
While the day concluded with Spartan versus Spartan, it began against top-seeded foes from San Marino, the Rio Hondo League champion that is ranked No. 1 in the division and, as is accustomed, dominated the individual tournament.
Lee, the No. 3 seed, was swept by No. 2 Charles Deng of San Marino, 6-2, 6-2.
San Marino swept the finals, with Titans going head to head in singles and doubles and thereby clinching all the league’s automatic CIF Individual entries.
In the singles final, Gealer defeated Deng, 6-3, 6-1, and in doubles, top-seeded Robert Carter and Ryan Cheng defeated No. 2 Derek Chen and Nicolas Splichal, 6-1, 7-5, in the championships.
“San Marino’s definitely got the deepest team, the most talent,” Moravec said. “There wasn’t any surprises on their part.”
The third-place match concluded a long day for Lee, as Moravec said he came straight from Advanced Placement testing to the tournament.
For Chmielewski, though, he entered relaxed and exited with plenty to look forward to.
“A lot of people came in looking really tense. I think I was one of the only ones that came in relaxed, just trying to enjoy the experience,” he said. “I’ve still got a lot of time. Doing so well this early, it’s not bad.”
Follow Grant Gordon on Twitter: @TCNGrantGordon.