If a screenwriter pitched the story of San Dieguito Academy coach Joe Tomasi’s 2015-16 tennis season to a movie studio in Hollywood, it might get rejected for being too similar to some of the classic sports movies.
On second thought, unoriginal doesn’t seem to bother modern movie studios. Somebody call Kevin Costner!
The uplifting story starts back in October, when the ribbon was cut on a sparkling new SDA tennis complex following three years of construction.
Coach Tomasi’s 20th season at the helm continued its upward trajectory in November when junior Jennifer Kerr became the first Mustang girls player ever to capture the San Diego Section Individual Championship.
The success continued this spring as the SDA boys squad, seeded fourth, won four straight playoff matches to take the SDS Division II title. For that performance, the Mustangs’ first team championship since 1993, Tomasi was named the section’s Coach of the Year.
“The kids just got on a roll and couldn’t do anything wrong that whole week,” Tomasi said of the playoff run.
SDA hosted Mater Dei Catholic in the opening round, winning 14-4, then got past visiting Mira Mesa, 15-3. That set up a road match at top-seeded Helix, where the Mustangs prevailed, 12-6.
In the championship contest against San Diego High, SDA won the first 11 matches to clinch the title just one hour into the outing.
“I didn’t even realize that we had gotten such a big lead. But when we found out, everyone on the team just lost it. It was amazing,” said sophomore Cole Urcelay, who led the Mustangs in wins in 2016, most of them gained as a No. 1 doubles team with junior Kyle Bone.
“All of our work and effort and everything we had put in, finally paid off.”
Adding to the storybook nature of SDA’s season, was a clear defining moment on April 12. Playing at Mission Hills, a solid opponent but one that ended up behind the Mustangs in the standings, the locals dropped an ultra-close decision. With the sets tied at 10-10, the two teams looked at total games won to break the tie, and Mission Hills had the edge at 74-73.
Both Urcelay and his coach recognized it as the moment the SDA season turned around:
“We had lost by one game, and after that we all just put our heads down and got serious for the rest of the season,” Urcelay said. “We got together and talked about what we needed to do and how we needed to do it. We all felt it. Once we got on the winning streak, we all thought ‘Wow we can really do it’ and that just pushed us even further.”
While the sophomore standout won the team award for most set victories, Urcelay was just one of the five Mustangs to win more than 40 sets in 2016.
Doubles player Blake Stoner-Osborne, a junior, won the coaches award for remaining focused and productive all season, despite playing with several different partners as Tomasi searched for the correct combination. In the championships round, the lone Mustang senior, Armen Billmoria, played with Stoner-Osborne. As the team’s older statesman, Billmoria provided leadership all season long.
“(Billmoria) wasn’t the strongest player on the team but he works the hardest out of us and has the most spirit,” Urcelay said. “(As a team) we were always playing seriously and trying to improve ourselves, but were also joking around and having a good time. During practice, on bus rides, in matches, whenever we’re together, we are always just having a great time.”
At No. 3 doubles, sophomore Jun Lee and junior Colton Dils combined to give SDA a big punch at the bottom of the lineup.
“I don’t think they lost to another No. 3 doubles team all year,” Tomasi said.
The Mustangs’ singles crew usually featured the young trio of freshman Jacob Bear, freshman Cruz Martinez and sophomore Cole Bridges, who each got better and better as the season went on.
With only one player, the graduated Billmoria, not coming back next year — and the addition of promising incoming freshman Shervin Dehmoubed to fill that spot — the Mustangs’ future is bright.
Maybe Hollywood would be interested in a sequel.