No one had to tell Servite junior Patrick Buchanan how far his tennis game had progressed in the last year. The results spoke for themselves.
But it still felt good for him to hear about it, even if the comment came from the father of Doug Stewart, the Malibu High player who had just handed him his only loss of the season--in the Southern Section individual singles final.
"He told me he didn't know I was that aggressive of a player," Buchanan said. "He thought I just got the ball back."
Most of Buchanan's opponents thought that was the extent of his game. But this year, they learned the hard way that Buchanan has added to his repertoire. Suddenly, the feisty baseliner who was content to keep the ball in play and force his opponents into errors had developed punishing groundstrokes, a strong and accurate serve and, yes, even a decent volley.
By the end of the season, Buchanan was starting to play like former Servite star Ryan Moore, who won the Pacific-10 singles title this year.
"It's been a great season, a complete turnaround from last year," he said.
The turnaround, which resulted in an Ojai title, a section individual runner-up finish and Servite's first team title, has earned Buchanan The Times' Orange County boys' tennis player of the year honor.
"I'm pretty surprised about that," he said. "That wasn't even in my mind before the season began."
After working hard on his conditioning, strength and footwork over the summer, Buchanan knew he would be improved. But he didn't know how improved until he reached the finals of the first three Southern California designated tournaments of the year. Before this year, he had never advanced past the quarterfinals in a junior designated event.
Once the high school season began, Buchanan's game and his confidence took another leap. In late April, he scored the biggest win of his career--defeating archrival Aaron Yovan of University in the Ojai interscholastic final.
"I was just looking to get out of the first day" and into the round of 16, he said. "But I got a few lucky breaks and I played well."
In 2000, Buchanan didn't even play Ojai because of a sore ankle and he lost in the third round of the individual tournament to University's Jack Li.
"It was a forgettable year," he said.
In this year's individual tournament, Buchanan easily advanced into the round of 16 and entered the draw as the second-seeded player. He reached the final in style, winning three matches without dropping a set. In the title match against Stewart, he took the first set in a tiebreaker, but lost the last two sets, 6-3, 6-2.
"I got tired at the end," he said. "My mom says I need to change my diet. She thinks I need to eat more fruit. So I've started to eat a banana a day."
Buchanan knows he will have to be at his best next season.
"There's going to be a lot of people gunning for me," said Buchanan, who hopes to attend Notre Dame on a tennis scholarship. "I want to defend my Ojai title and win CIF this time. But I'm not going to be the underdog this time. It's going to be a lot harder."
Servite Coach Dick Fumanti expects Buchanan to be ready.
"Pat will get a lot better next year," Fumanti said. "He hasn't come close to peaking yet."