That's what Canterbury singles player Leah Barnes and the Bishop Dwenger doubles team of Audrey Rang and Elizabeth Maxson faced Saturday afternoon at Park Tudor High School. After each finished second last year, their goals all this season had been to play for state championships.
Instead, they got to play in the afterthought match, the last time the IHSAA is going to hold them, in fact.
Then they suffered — in the truest sense of a gut pounding — awful losses in the first set. Barnes fell behind Hamilton Southeastern's Kelly Iden 3-0 before rallying to force a tiebreaker where she lost 7-4 when back-to-back drop shots hit the tape and rolled back onto her side of the court.
Maxson and Rang were even worse, bowing to Munster's Paige Heuer and Nikki Heiniger 6-1. Both losses were so ugly, the towel was thrown in so fast it must have flown halfway to South Bend.
But then Barnes and the Saints showed how good they really are. Barnes rallied to win the second set 6-3 before falling behind 3-0 in the third. Then she won 15 of the next 16 points on her way to winning six straight games and a 6-3 decision that left both players exhausted.
Maxson and Rang didn't have the same luck, but they gave the same effort, rallying to win the second set 6-4 and battling to 3-3 in the third set before losing 6-4. Thanks for coming, but you are leaving with two losses as a parting gift.
``It's extremely difficult especially when your goal all season is to be a state champion,'' Bishop Dwenger coach Jeremy Patterson said. ``When you get kicked down like that, it's difficult to get spirits back up. We fought hard, but today just wasn't our day.''
There were no excuses necessary because the Saints did fight so hard. They couldn't put two good points together all day during five hours of play, but they rarely let their opponents do it, either. They showed plenty of guts even though their stomaches had to be aching.
``It definitely gets achey and hot and tired out there, but we fought through it,'' Maxson said. ``We were off today but we tried to play through it.''
Barnes had to fight almost from her first serve Saturday morning against Carmel's Bailey Padgett. The Canterbury sophomore lost the first set 6-0, fought back to tie the second 4-4, and was serving to tie 5-5 when she was called for a foot fault to give Padgett a match point which she won with the next point 6-4. It was the first time all match that Barnes was called for a foot fault, though she was called for a few during the consolation match.
Even tougher, if Barnes could have survived and possibly won a third set, she would have met Greenwood's Jackie Kawamoto in the final, a player Barnes beat in last year's tournament. Kawamoto played fantastic tennis and won the state title over Padgett.
``That's why I'm even more proud of her for digging down and winning the big match,'' Canterbury coach Jerry Gerig said. ``Someday she'll look back at this and feel glad that she accomplished this. It won't be tomorrow, but someday.''
Barnes finished 31-1 on the season and 59-2 over two years. Maxson and Rang finished 27-2 and 55-3 over the last two years. All five of those losses have come during the state finals, a remarkable record.
The only consolation Saturday afternoon is the players represented their city, their schools, their coaches and themselves with as much class and tenacity as they possibly could.
As Rang said, ``We fought hard, and that's all that mattered to us.''
And that was good enough to be proud of.