Three years ago, Sameer Gangoli left soccer behind for good and picked up a tennis racquet again, reigniting a younger childhood passion.
A month removed from completing his sophomore year at Great Valley High School, Gangoli has already scaled the mountaintop.
Gangoli ran the table at Hershey Racquet Club in late May, defeating junior Holden Koons of Dallastown 6-1, 6-7(6), 6-2 for the PIAA Class 3A singles championship. Gangoli was a shot return machine during the match; he showed no ill effect from dropping a tense second-set tiebreak by rebounding to win the crown in eight final-set games.
The victory capped a season in which Gangoli won Ches-Mont and District 1 crowns along the way to a state title, the third straight honor for a Chest-Mont program. He is, without question, the Daily Local News All-Area Boys Tennis Player of Year.
Gangoli called in from Shreveport, Louisiana, where he was participating in a top-ranked national team tennis tournament, as his squad’s No. 1.
“It didn’t set in until I was standing up there with the state trophy,” Gangoli said, in recalling the moment he vanquished Koons, the three-time defending District 3 champion, in the state final. “Hitting that backhand winner cross court (at championship point), having my teammates there and cheering for me, that was amazing. But it was also ‘wait, did this just happen?’”
Not quite meteoric, in terms of timetable, but not laboring in the salt mines, either, Gangoli admitted to surprising himself with all the success.
“In some ways, it seems like a long ride, but yeah, I have surprised myself with some of my achievements,” he said. “The state championship, with the players that were in there, I surprised myself just winning that thing.
“Everyone has their day. Holden, for example, has beaten me multiple times before. Great competitor. And next year, he’ll tear it up. Last year, he beat me in the first round at states.”
Not bad for a kid who took an extended break from the courts as a youngster to concentrate on soccer, only to reverse course between his seventh and eighth grade years. He started his freshman campaign as Great Valley’s No. 3, one slot behind his brother, Nikhil.
A year later, Gangoli ascended to the team’s top spot and proceeded to rip through his slate. The improvement in his game was palpable.
“Strategically (court sense), I have definitely improved,” Gangoli said. “I’ve learned to deal with lefties, especially. My confidence has improved, as well, since I’ve performed well in a lot of tournaments. My consistency and my fitness level has gone up.
Gangoli, a Pittsburgh native, lived with his family in Allentown before the clan found its way to Malvern. It was in Allentown where he first picked up a racquet.
“Nobody in my family played tennis,” Gangoli said. “One day, my grandfather brought this old racquet with him when he was visiting us and we ended up playing in our cul-de-sac. I was probably five. My brother and I enjoyed it, so we ended up playing at the local tennis club there.”
Gangoli’s youth coach retired, however, and he drifted away from the sport. He didn’t start playing again until to family relocated to Malvern four years ago. He started playing again, at Green Valley Country Club, under the tutelage of tennis instructor Jarrett Chirico.
“It wasn’t until I started to play with Jarrett that I really started to improve,” Gangoli said. “I was still finding it tough to break through in any main tournaments, but tennis wasn’t my sole focus. It was tennis and soccer.
“And I was pretty good at soccer. But as I started to see better and better results with tennis … I just thought I liked tennis more and thought ‘this is what I want to do.’”
Great Valley’s rising junior is not resting on his state gold medal, however, with two more seasons of scholastic tennis ahead of him.
“Just overall, I’d say as an encore, I can always improve on fitness and consistency, or any part my game, really,” he said. “I can improve on my forehand, my backhand. For me now, improve more strategically. Attacking, being more aggressive on the court, not retrieving as much.”
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