Things looked bleak after the Orange High School boys tennis team lost the first set on three of five courts in the Ohio Tennis Coaches Association D2 state team tournament. The program was on the doorstep of winning its first team state championship, but the odds seemed to be against the Lions.
Coach Rich Bole told the Cleveland Jewish News their final opponent, Indian Hill in suburban Cincinnati was likely “stacking,” which is putting a team’s two best players together to play doubles.
Against such strong competition, Orange doubles partners junior Jake Goldstein and freshman Gabi Kalir lost their first set, 6-2. But Bole said Goldstein, the team captain, kept him and Kalir focused on themselves as opposed to their opponents.
“Throughout that whole match, Jake kept saying, ‘It doesn’t matter because we’re the better team anyway,’ and he was just really helpful in getting Gabi to believe that, even though they went down 6-2 in the first set,” Bole said. “Jake just wouldn’t let the team do anything, but stay the course.”
Goldstein and Kalir won their second set, 6-3. After Ben Pomeranets won his singles match and Josh Nwaozuzu and Chika Nwaozuzu won their doubles match, Orange needed just one more match victory to clinch the state title.
“It was one of the craziest experiences I’ve ever had,” Goldstein said. “There was so much pressure on us, but it felt good. It kind of motivated me. The pressure just fueled me.”
Goldstein added losing the first set kept him on his toes.
“I actually got a little angry, just because we didn’t play like we really could have,” Goldstein said. “I got really angry, and then I knew that it was all going to come down to us. So, it just fueled the fire.”
After Pomeranets’ match was done, Goldstein and Kalir were the only ones left competing. Their teammates all gathered around the court and provided energy from the sidelines.
“Every time we won a point, they got really loud, and we’d get really loud,” Goldstein said. “That’s what fueled us and gave us energy. I think that’s really why we ended up pulling through, because we had that supporting energy from my teammates.”
Kalir, who attends B’nai Jeshurun Congregation in Pepper Pike and is a member of BBYO, said he was nervous both mentally and physically as he had been dealing with back soreness for a couple of months.
“I just knew I needed to be completely healthy,” Kalir said. “That was kind of my biggest fear that I wasn’t going to feel good when I stepped on the court. But when I stepped on the court, it was fine. The nerves kind of went away.”
Kalir said this was his first season as part of a team, and it was fun to experience a tournament run with his teammates.
“It was really amazing,” he said. “Every other time I’ve won a tournament, I felt like it was just for me. I was really the only winner. When I won this tournament, it felt like I was winning it for the team.”