Before launching his memorable Great Valley High School tennis career, Sameer Gangoli was a versatile athlete who excelled at several sports, earning a black belt in Tae Kwon Do and playing soccer for seven years.
“When I was 7 years old, my grandfather brought some tennis racquets with him from India, and my brother and I played with him in our cul-de-sac,” said Gangoli. “That sparked my [original] interest, but I picked up tennis [competitively] when I was around 11 years old.”
Despite his relatively late start, Gangoli developed his tennis game quickly, thanks to coaches (and brothers) Jarrett Chirico and Chris Chirico.
“They both have contributed to my tennis game in so many ways,” said Gangoli. “Jarrett taught me all the fundamentals and allowed me to catch up to most of the guys my age who had been playing for many years before me. Later on, Chris focused on refining my skills and allowed me to improve as a more advanced player.”
As a Great Valley freshman, Gangoli advanced to the PIAA Class 3A state singles tournament after placing fifth at the District 1 tournament, and the Patriots advanced to the PIAA 3A state team final with Gangoli at first singles.
In his sophomore year, Gangoli captured the PIAA Class 3A state singles title, defeating Dallastown junior Holden Koons in the state championship final, 6-1, 6-7 (6), 6-2. He also won the District 1 3A singles title. In the PIAA Class 3A state team tournament, playing first singles, he helped the Patriots once again reach the state championship finals.
The following year, Great Valley captured the PIAA 3A state team title, defeating Radnor 3-1 in the state championship finals. At first singles, Gangoli defeated the Raiders’ Max Safanov in straight sets, 6-3, 7-5.
In the state team semifinals, Great Valley gutted out a tough 3-2 win against Fox Chapel, and at first singles, Gangoli defeated Fox Chapel senior Robby Shymansky in three hard-fought sets that lasted three hours, 3-6, 6-4, 7-6 (4). What made the state semifinal victory particularly sweet is that Gangoli had lost to Shymansky in the prior two years during the team competition.
“That was definitely my best high school match,” said Gangoli. “I had never beaten him before and he was without a doubt my biggest challenge going into the state competition. I believe I had trained very hard during the off season and I knew I could rely on my teammates during that whole season. When I won that match, not only was it because I believed in myself and focused on every point, but I also had the full support of my team behind me, and I think that propelled me to winning that match.”
Great Valley boys’ tennis head coach Paul Waltz, a member of the Pennsylvania Tennis High School Players’ Hall of Fame who won a state title as a player for the Patriots in the early 1970s, said, “Sameer’s match against Shymansky was one of the best junior matches I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen a lot.”
A week later, Gangoli advanced to the PIAA 3A state singles championship finals once again, this time losing in three hard-fought sets.
“Sameer’s biggest strengths are being able to stay even-keeled through matches, and never getting down on himself,” said Waltz. “He could stay positive and was never out of a match. In the state team finals, he was tired but saw we had won second and third singles, so he said that gave him that extra spurt to finish strong. He was part of the team, not someone who felt he was above everyone else.”
Waltz, who attended the University of Kansas on a tennis scholarship and has been a full-time pro at Springton Tennis Club for more than three decades, added, “Being a full time pro, a state champ, and going to college on a tennis scholarship, I think I could understand a lot of what Sameer was going through in his matches. He was [particularly] good at listening and giving feedback on what was happening on the court.”
In the USTA National Level 2 Tournament at the Crandon Park Tennis Center in Key Biscayne, Fla. in February, Gangoli defeated the No. 5 ranked player in the United States, University of Florida-bound Ben Shelton, 4-6, 6-3, 10-7.
“That match was certainly one of my best, and I believe it was because it was where I was able to culminate all of the tactics I had been working on in the previous weeks and months into that tournament,” said Gangoli. “I tried to remain focused on every point and not worry about the outcome, which led me to feel very confident in myself. I believe that intensity and belief I brought to that match was what allowed me to win it.”
Gangoli’s favorite tennis player is Rafael Nadal.
“He’s my favorite by far, because of his tenacity and motivation on and off the court,” said Gangoli. “His passion for tennis and to get better has been a real role model for me and he has inspired me to try to implement those same characteristics into my own game.”
Coming into the spring 2020 boys’ tennis season for Great Valley, Gangoli was hoping to lead the Patriots to a repeat PIAA 3A team title, and to capture another PIAA Class 3A state singles championship.
“I think winning the team state championship was the main goal for all of us [at Great Valley] this spring,” said Gangoli. “I worked on my game a lot during the off season, hoping to improve in places I felt were weaker, like my serve, and I think we as a team really wanted to maintain our camaraderie and continue to push each other to be better.”
Unfortunately, with the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, the PIAA spring season was cancelled April 9.
“I think I felt what most senior athletes, and even all high school athletes, must have felt [at news of the cancellation], which was that we were robbed of our season to play the sport we loved and to represent our school on a bigger level,” said Gangoli. “I felt like most of my senior year was gone as well, which was really upsetting. My father is an infectious disease specialist however, so I understood the reasons behind the cancellation.”
Sameer’s father, Amit Gangoli, owns a medical practice called Eastern Pennsylvania Infectious Disease Associates (EPIDA) and works at many local hospitals such as Phoenixville, Pottstown and Einstein.
Off the court, Sameer was a busy student at Great Valley, taking part in the Model United Nations Club and founding an annual charity tennis event with his older brother Nikhil for the victims of several natural disasters in conjunction with the American Red Cross.
In the fall, Sameer will join Nikhil (who also played tennis for Great Valley) at the University of Pennsylvania, where he plans to major in International Relations and Business.
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