As they’ve grown up, Ben Zipay, Ryan Rajakar, Jaden Wiesinger, Alex Dina and Ryan Sherwood have gotten used to winning in the sport of tennis.
This quintet of Indians have earned those wins spending countless days playing in USTA and high school tournaments, but on Thursday, they got to experience the joy of victory together — holding off Doral Academy to win the 3A state championship, 4-2, at Sanlando Park in Altamonte Springs.
“I have seen a lot of work from these guys for two or three years, but the reality is that these guys have been working since they were little kids,” Venice coach Wayne Robertson said. “I’m so proud for the parents who have taken these kids to all these tournaments, been there for them for practices. I know the work it takes before they even get to me.
“But to see it result in this is so huge. I’m so happy for the families that are represented, because they’re really the ones who put the work into these guys.”
As Sherwood secured the final point of his 7-5, 6-0 win in singles play late Thursday night, the Venice boys tennis team rushed the court to celebrate their first state championship in school history and huddle together one last time in the 2019 season.
“I was a little nervous at first, but I got used to it,” Sherwood said of everyone watching his game-deciding match. “Coach always tells us to be mentally tough, so I knew I had to lock in. I knew this is what I was here to do, so I had to come through.”
With the win, Indians tennis joins the Venice football, baseball, volleyball, swim and wrestling teams as recent state champions.
The state title caps off a season for the boys tennis team in which the Indians were hardly challenged until the end — going 20-2 with the help of their starters and reserves Cooper Whisnant, Troy Bankemper, Mason Lai, Stephen Ryan and Louis Ferreira, who each played their part in the regular season.
Not only did Venice hardly lose all year, but it blew through the playoffs until it met its near-match in Doral. The Indians swept districts, regional semis, the regional final and the state semifinals before playing a nail-biter against the Firebirds.
Venice appeared to be in for another easy win after sweeping doubles play with an 8-2 win from Zipay and Rajakar and an 8-4 win for Wiesinger and Sherwood, but the match was far from over.
Needing to win just two of five singles matches in the best-of-seven tournament, Venice took the championship down to the wire.
As the courts began to empty and the Indians took losses from Wiesinger and Dina, the pressure was on Zipay and Sherwood — the only two players with a lead.
But when Zipay sealed his 6-4, 6-2 win in the No. 1 singles spot, all attention turned to Sherwood as the Indians stood on the cusp of a state title.
“Over the years, I’ve kind of learned how to deal with the pressure,” Zipay, a junior, said. “I’ve never been in this spot before, but regional finals last year it was 8-8 in the tiebreaker, my match was it, and I missed a tough volley on match point.
“I’ve learned how to deal with these experiences. So when I got to the tough points today, I just trusted my game. I knew I could hit the shot. So, I just let it flow because I knew I had to do my part for the team to win.”
The difference for Venice came down to its doubles play — in which it went undefeated throughout the playoffs. Robertson made a point to emphasize the importance of doubles wins this season, and it paid off as it gave the Indians a 2-0 lead in each state match.
But the teamwork and support the Indians have each other is clear to see off the court as well. Cheering each other on mid-match, encouraging each other with fist bumps and hugs, it was apparent that tennis isn’t an individual sport for the Indians.
“I’ve known my doubles partner since we were 3 years old,” Zipay said. “I’ve known everyone else since 3rd grade. So we go way back, the whole team does. The bonds that we’ve formed since then have maybe tripled this season and last season.
“It’s crazy how close we’ve become and how we get to experience something great like this.”
The Indians had some fun as they received their awards — showering Robertson with an ice bath from a nearby water cooler to cap off their season.
With all of Venice’s starters positioned to return for next year, some players couldn’t help but think about what they could do together in 2020 — after another year of growth and friendship.
“It’s extremely exciting,” Zipay said of the future for Venice boys tennis. “I’m hoping to come back here as a team next year and pull the same thing off. Once this year ends, next year begins.
“But we’ll remember this moment.”
Indians finish in second for individual championships Following up on their historic team win on Thursday, Indians Ben Zipay and Ryan Rajakar were back in action on Friday.
Zipay made it all the way to the finals of the singles championship, falling 6-3, 6-3. Teamed up with Rajakar, the two also finished in second place in the doubles championship for the second straight year, losing, 6-1, 6-2.
The girls doubles team of Jia Johnson and Laura Kulcsar, who also went to states, finished as runner-ups in the doubles championships as well, losing 6-2, 6-1 on Thursday.