It was history in the making as age and experience reigned at the 89th Annual San Diego District Championships at Balboa Tennis Club.
Veteran players and coaches Ryan Keckley and Curt Wheeler were crowned the Men’s Open Doubles Champions in a tough 32-team draw.
Keckly and Wheeler are the head men’s tennis coaches respectively at the University of San Diego and Point Loma Nazarene University. Keckly, 33, has been at USD since 2015 in the head position. He had a successful undergraduate career at Notre Dame University and earned three All-Big East Tournament Team Doubles honors. Wheeler, 29, is an alumni of Point Loma Nazarene and earned NAIA All-American honors in 2009. He then served as an assistant at the school, and was later named head coach in 2014.
The stage was set for a showdown of age vs. youth. The “old” veterans defeated top NCAA recruits and recent high school graduates Ivan Thamma and David Goulak, who will both play for UC Davis this year. It was an epic battle and in the final, and it appeared youth had the edge. After splitting sets, the veteran coaches were down 1-4 in the third. They staged a surprising comeback to win the set, 6-4, match and tournament.
“This was a high quality match and they (Thamma and Goulak) were as good as it gets in doubles,” said Wheeler. “I just kept my head down and kept running. I figure that I gotta do this while I still can.”
Keckly added it was a true test to follow his own coaching advice, as he has led the USD Toreros to win the West Coast Conference Championship in his second season at the helm.
“I always tell my players that there is never a good time to panic especially when you’re down,” Keckley said. “Just get back to executing your shots and stay mentally tough. You never know what can happen and this match was living proof. This was my opportunity to walk-the-walk as well as talk-the-talk. It was a great match and I don’t think we’ll be as lucky if we face (Thamma and Goulak) again. These two are already great players and they’ll only get better.”
An additional component that contributed to the coaches’ success was the ability to communicate. This was the first time the wily veterans teamed up but they knew how to work together. “It’s all about really good and clear communication,” Keckley said. “We’re coaches and that’s what we try to teach our players.”
Support from the sidelines for Thamma and Goulak came from friend and Men’s Open Singles Champion Keegan Smith, who received a NCAA scholarship to play for UCLA this fall. “I have to cheer for the young guys,” he said with a smile. “They’re my posse.”
The San Diego District tournament had a total of 570 players compete in the event, which is an all-time high. There were 36 divisions and the event took almost 6 days to finish. The increase in participation is due to the presence of college players from USD, UC San Diego, UC Davis and San Diego State University.
“This is the first time two head coaches played together in this tournament,” said director Tony Perez. “It’s also the first time collegiate players viewed it as a pre-season warm up. There was some great tennis played here.”
Said Thamma: “I entered this because I wanted to get in some good matches before I leave for college. It definitely worked. It was also fun to see some of my friends before I go.”
The Women’s Open Singles Championship was won by No. 3 seed Kristina Breisacher, who plays for UC Davis. She defeated San Diego’s Hiromi Sasano, a USPTA Teaching Pro at Balboa Tennis Club. Sasano held a former WTA ranking of 771. The Women’s Open Doubles title was won by No 1 seeds Sasano and Sabastiani Leon. Other collegiate players and coaches in the draw were Kelly Shaffer (UCLA), Gillian Parker (UC Irvine), Ashley Chao (UCSD), Women’s Coach Jami Jones of San Diego City College. The Open Mixed Doubles was won by Wheeler and Maika Adair.
For the full tournament results, go to http://tennislink.usta.com/Tournaments/TournamentHome/Tournament.aspx?T=190364#&&s=7Draws38.