Tennis Preview: Seoul American looks to take a step up winners' podium
YONGSAN GARRISON, South Korea – Some things, a guy has a tough time living down.
In Nick Gagnet’s case, the pain of his Seoul American team finishing n second in the Far East tennis tournament Division I team standings was compounded by something that happened on the first day of the tournament.
In his first match, Gagnet took a mighty swing at a ball … and doubled over in pain, his hands immediately gravitating toward his forehead. He had hit himself in the eyebrow with his own racket. And his teammates have not soon let him forget it.
“I get reminded of it every time I make a poor shot,” said the Seoul American senior. “It motivates me. It makes me angry. I don’t want to be remembered for hitting myself in the eyebrow. I want to be remembered for doing something meaningful for (Seoul American) tennis.”
Gagnet went on to lose in the quarterfinals in singles and doubles with his brother Josh. On the girls side, Grace Cho finished second in singles and she and Ashley Shirriff took third in girls doubles. Seoul American as a team ended up finishing behind two-time champion American School In Japan.
Gagnet and his teammates are tired of playing bridesmaids. This time around, he and the Falcons are taking aim at league honors in the Korean-American Interscholastic Activities Conference Blue Division, as well as taking that final step to a Far East title.
“No one likes getting second place,” he said. “We’re hungry for that championship this year. Last year was a very fun Far East, but we’re all much better. Over the offseason, we’ve been talking that we really want that championship and we’re going to return with everything we’ve got.”
To take that step would require the Falcons to overcome one of the strongest fields in Pacific high school history.
Not only do the Tokyo-area international schools, St. Mary’s and ASIJ dominate Far East a year ago, but they bring back almost their entire squads.
“We realize that they’re very high-caliber players,” Gagnet said of the returning contingent, featuring Far East singles champions Marius Ruh of St. Mary’s and Lili Kobayashi of ASIJ. All the Titans’ top four boys are back, as are seven of eight Mustangs from the Far East team of a year ago.
Seoul American’s approach to taking the final step has been two-fold: working on conditioning and shot-making.
“We know that the Okinawa heat is something we’re not used to here, and especially playing two, three, four matches a day; that really got to us,” Gagnet said.
Cho, also a senior, said the heat definitely left its mark on her during the Far East semifinal, a three-set victory over Seisen’s Matilde Piras. That match took 3 hours and 10 minutes, with 22 of the 29 games going to deuce and lengthy rallies extending their time on court.
“I was very tired after that … and I guess it affected how I played” in the final, a two-set loss to Kobayashi, Cho said. “But I’ve prepared a lot this year and I’m hoping to have a rematch with her. I want to be first place. I want to have another chance at it.”
Toward that end, Cho says she’s been broadening her game by working on volleys and avoiding staying on the baseline.
“That was my weakness,” she said.
Piras is also back, as are all four of ASIJ’s top players. But they, too, are facing challenges from within – Mustangs senior Anna Wade said tryouts this year were challenging, made so by the presence of freshmen hungry to take the upperclassmen’s spots.
“You never know what’s going to happen,” ASIJ coach Jen Brown said. “We have some new talent. You never know who will make the Far East and Kanto teams. New faces could make for new results.”