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CIF-SOUTHERN SECTION DIVISION 5 BOYS TENNIS PLAYOFFS: Turnaround season for Gahr boys tennis continues with upset win against second-ranked team

By Loren Kopff
@LorenKopff on Twitter

When Gahr High boys tennis head coach David Thompson saw Arrowhead Christian High warm up prior to the California Interscholastic Federation-Southern Section Division 5 quarterfinals, he thought they were the best team he has seen top to bottom. But if Thompson gets his way, he can say that the Gladiators are the best team he has seen.

Gahr, which advanced to the quarterfinals for the first time in school history, won the first two sets of its home match against the division’s second-ranked team and held on for a 10-8 win this past Monday at Liberty Park. Two days later, the unseeded Gladiators knocked off California High 15-3 and improved to 15-4. Now, Gahr will play for its first tennis championship when it meets top ranked Magnolia High today at 2:30 at The Claremont Tennis Club.

“I was glad we were home,” Thompson said. “They’re all playing loose right now. So, they’re just letting it go. You saw them bouncing around, trying to get each other up. My guys are pretty good and they actually play better against good teams.”

Gahr won five sets on both sides with freshman Josh Tesoro, the No. 2 singles player, picking up a pair of 6-0 wins, first knocking off No. 1 Nate Hays, then later beating No. 3 Matt Johnson to make it 10-7.

The highlight of the match came when all three of Gahr’s doubles teams defeated the No. 1 duo of Jeremy Matthews and Seth Beres, who actually is the No. 3 tandem. First, seniors Meet Patel and Julian Cruz won 6-1, then it was senior Ben Lee and junior Darrion Nghiem (6-0) and finally sophomores Issac Wilcox and Mohammad Khan (6-2). Patel and Cruz also picked up a 6-0 win against Matt Lanum and Terbest while Lee and Nghiem also defeated Lanum and Terbest 6-3.

“I would say the number one reason why we won was our number three singles beat their number three,” Thompson said. “And my number three doubles beat their number three, even though it was their number one team. We won the battle of the number three’s. If we lose those two, and then we lose a couple of these matches [at the end], they could have won. And those are close matches. Either team could have won and my guys pulled it out.”

Thompson was referring to freshman Ibrahim Ahmed, who knocked off Matt Johnson 6-4, making it a 5-2 Gahr advantage at the time. When Khan and Wilcox picked up their 6-2 victory, it made the score 8-5 and more importantly, the Gladiators were leading in points, 60-42. The dagger in the heart came when Lee and Nghiem fell to Justin Rigsby and Gio Cordero 6-7 (7-3). Although the score was 9-6, Gahr had clinched the win because they were leading in points by 22 with no hope of Arrowhead Christin winning even if they swept their final three sets.

“I have a couple of kids who knew how to play,” Thompson said. “Last year I picked up Chris Rasch. He knew how to play tennis; he was one of the best kids in the league as a freshman. He was number one singles last year [in league], number two singles [in league] this year.

“I picked up Josh Tesoro,” he continued. “He’s a freshman and an awesome player. He’s got a great attitude; makes everyone on the team better because he wants to come out and play every day.”

Gahr had previously knocked off seventh ranked Bishop Amat 10-8, then 10th ranked Foothill Technology High 13-5 after opening the postseason with a 14-4 wild card victory over Nipomo High.

“I think we should have been ranked,” Thompson said. “I really don’t know how [the CIF-SS] does it. But the number one ranked team in Division 4 was Lynwood and we beat them two out of three this year. We played pretty well against the good teams.”

Gahr finished in third place in the San Gabriel Valley League this season and has not won a league title since 2008. For the most part over the past 19 seasons, the Gladiators have either finished in second or third place in league. After missing the 2014 and 2015 playoffs, Gahr bounced back last season to defeat Vista Del Lago High in a wild card match, the Workman High in the first round before losing to Arroyo High in the second round. Thompson says the surprising turnaround can partly be attributed to the change in divisions.

“I think it’s because we moved down a division,” he said. “I think we’re playing against more schools like [Gahr] where people learn how to play with their coach. It seemed like back in the old days, we would play a Brentwood and they would three guys ranked in the top 10 in the state and two nationally.”

Two of the other three ABC Unified School District programs have already won a CIF-SS divisional title. Cerritos High won back to back Division IV crowns in 2008 and 2009 while Whitney High was Division V champions in 2003.

“It would really be awesome because these are kids who I have had since their freshman year,” Thompson said of Gahr winning a championship. “Most of them I taught how to play tennis. So, it’s not that you’re just pulling kids from all over [the area]. These are kids who grew up in the neighborhood. If they all play great at the same time, it would be awesome.”