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How Big are Your Chances?

By Andrew Guan

I didn’t think I’d get as far as the state level, to be honest.

I can’t start without giving my Coach Walker credit though. Also my amazing doubles partner Edwin. They’ve both been known to never give up on themselves or each other. They’re basically the reason why I am where I am today.

The beginning of spring season got off to a rough start. I had many problems to deal with, such as frequent injuries, annoying teammates, and school grades. Our first tournament wasn’t a total disaster, though, unexpectedly.

The day started very, very cold. So cold, in fact, that it was pretty hard to feel my own fingers? How was I going to hold my racket, much less hit the ball? I looked around the yard. We were behind the school, with the street right at our backs. Oak trees surrounded us with shade, but it didn’t matter anyway, since it was too cold to even play.

There were four schools to participate in the tournament today: ours (Dawson), Clements, Ridge Point, and Kingwood. The coaches held an emergency meeting and agreed that we don’t start until 12pm, when it would get warmer.

And to my despair, the first school we played was against Clements. Naturally, they had the best team in the city and we really stood no chance, Edwin and I. In fact, I was hit in the leg hard by a ball. I could barely run afterwards, but we managed to place in second after Clements. That didn’t sound like a total fail to me, but I was ready to continue pushing harder and harder until I could get what I really wanted: to qualify for the state championships.

As the months passed, Edwin and I became more and more well-acquainted with one another. I figured I should probably ask him to practice with me more because (1) he had more experience, and (2) he was older and taller, so he was someone to look up to. We had more and more practice sessions, and it wasn’t easy, considering all the schoolwork involved. The teachers were constantly pestering us to study because of final exams.

Our toughest tournament was Kemah, which was at the end of March. The first two matches were ridiculously easy. I had an easy time until we got to the third match. I was pretty proud of the way I handled the match. Before, I was nervous because these guys looked extremely athletic, and they were swole. They were all ripped and buff, and I had a hard time believing we were going to beat these guys. Edwin seemed really down the whole match (and later I found out it was because he was waiting for his SAT score to arrive). After every point, I took my time with Edwin and we talked together, trying to motivate ourselves. At this point, it was no longer cold, quite the contrary, in fact. The sun beat down on our necks and arms and it made swinging the racket a thousand times harder, and it was never easy. Edwin had this faraway look on his face, and he struggled with his serve, which is a crucial part of tennis. I think what saved us was the entire team’s support. Every team member from the school came down to see us play and to cheer us on. Even Edwin smiled a little.

The next day, we were to play Clements again in the semifinals. I won’t lie, we played so badly that the first set went by in twenty minutes; we lost that set 0-6. Both Edwin and I were depressed. We had never played so badly in the entire year. We were ready to give up.

But our coach had other ideas. He used his three minute break time to drill in our heads the concept of never giving up, to always fight for the win, to always help each other out and to grind for however long it takes until we finally win the match. Edwin nodded like he understood. He put down his banana, took a swig of Gatorade, and picked up his racket with an expression that said, “I mean business now.”

I decided to follow in his footsteps, knowing that whatever was going to happen, we were going to go out with a colossal explosion.

Maybe that’s why we won the second set 7-6. Every time we won a point, the Clements’ boys’ faces betrayed signs of fear, anger, and confusion. I could practically hear them asking, “What have we done wrong?” It was difficult to laugh in the face of defeat, but I managed.

Right before the third set, our coach gave us some sweaty hugs. He told us that it was extremely nerve-wracking to watch us play against the best team in the city, but since we pulled through, he told us to keep fighting. He bought us some ice-cold water and bananas (because they’re rich in protein and energy, believe it or not), talked us through some defensive strategies that we should keep in mind, and hugged us again. This time, Edwin’s face expressed no sign of business. He looked ready to murder. In my head, I made myself repeat one thought: if we could take a set, we can win this match.

The deciding set began. We took the lead immediately, and we always took time to motivate ourselves, to celebrate after every point won. We kept looking at the Clements’ boys’ faces and we used their faults to generate our own momentum to keep us winning.

Finally, the championship point arrived. Edwin was serving for the match, and we were ahead, 5 games to 3. I looked back and I could see the sweat blurring his facial features, and he was breathing heavily. I closed my eyes, praying to God that we would finish this.

Applause met my ears. I snapped open my eyes.

Our coach was running to us, eyes blinded by tears, followed by the rest of the team. They ran straight into me and Edwin and paraded us on their shoulders. The noise was deafening. Even other schools’ teams were celebrating the downfall of Clements’ reign. Afterwards, Coach Walker came up to us and said that it was the first time ever that a Clements team had lost to another team with a freshman on it. In other words, I had made Houston history.

Sadly, the tournament wasn’t done yet. We were to face Seven Lakes in the finals, the third best school in the city. Their team consisted of an Asian kid about my size (so not that big) with arms the size of cannon barrels and a tall Indian kid with a huge hat.

I won’t go into the specifics there, but we lost narrowly. We placed second in the entire tournament and our teammates gave us a standing ovation. We had made a special memory together that I will never ever forget.

Time passed. School resumed, students found themselves cursing over their work, teammates were hogging the water dispenser, and I was studying hard for the final exams and training hard for regionals, which was the next major tournament.

Regionals began on a very cloudy and very humid day. Again, our whole team had come to support us and I suddenly felt unafraid of how this tournament was going to play out. Our first match was actually a lot worse than I expected. I anticipated that it would take about 1 hour, tops, before we would finish, but instead, the next 3 hours were the worst. Try as we might, neither Edwin nor I were playing like normal; we were missing shots left and right. Our coach was furious, but he calmed down enough to get our spirits up, and was basically the reason why we still won and pulled ahead.

The second match passed within thirty minutes. Nothing too major.

The third match, the semifinals, was against Seven Lakes again on the next day. I was getting super tired of this, but I was glad that the weather was actually forgiving and beautiful for a day of tennis. It turned out that the day before, Seven Lakes had suffered a series of tough matches, but had managed to pull through on both of them. Meanwhile, we were relatively well-rested and mentally prepared for what was about to come.

Edwin nearly had a mental breakdown on the way to the tournament site. Coach Walker took us aside and said in a low voice, “I don’t expect too much of you guys today. Just get out there, have fun, but fight like your life depends on it. Don’t ever forget that. There will always be a chance.”

Blooper moment: Edwin was so determined, he broke his strings during the warmup. Coach may have gotten in his head too much.

We started great by taking a tremendous lead against Seven Lakes. They were just missing a lot of easy shots and we gained momentum through their mistakes. I appreciated and basked in Edwin’s enthusiasm, our teammates’ support, and most importantly, I never gave up. We took the first set 6-3.

During the break, our coach muttered again, “I like how you guys are playing, but if you think you can raise the energy just a little bit, we won’t ever lose again. Remember, there will always be a chance. Simple as that. Go get them, boys.” This time, Edwin didn’t just set down his banana. He threw it away.

Edwin won most of the points in the second set. Our strategy was to organize our roles: I was to be a defender, and if possible, Edwin would go in on the offensive to put our opponents on the wrong footing and take them off guard. The strategy apparently worked. Our teammates were shouting themselves hoarse and throwing things in the air. The hardest part was not letting their praise go to my head. I kept myself calm and zeroed in on my strategies. What game would I use now? Could I afford to serve this way? That way? Where was I going to hit the next shot?

Finally, match point arrived. Again, Edwin was serving for the match. I kept my head low, waiting. Any moment now, said my brain over and over again as sweat gushed down my neck like a surface of a smooth river.

The smack of the ball, the gleeful roar of my teammates, and it was all over for Seven Lakes. Our teammates generously refrained from parading us around but they all gave us hugs and it was a sweaty love fest for all of us. Our coach was crying and repeating, “I knew you could do it! See, I was right. There was always a chance.”

Shocking news came to us in the finals. We had qualified for the state championships in San Antonio. Our coach brought us this news during break. We were losing badly, but for a few moments, I was too stunned to react, and I could almost see Edwin thinking along the same lines as each other. Our eyes locked and some sort of understanding passed between us, but we remained silent.

We lost the finals, but I will never forget afterwards how teammates rushed over and around the fence, shoved inflatable crowns on our sweaty heads, and gave us bear hugs. It felt like a dream come true, probably because it really was a dream come true. I couldn’t have wished for more. It felt like the entire weight of the sky was lifted off my shoulders because of one thing I wouldn’t have to worry about anymore. I also made history again by being the first freshman to qualify for state at Dawson High School ever. I was beside myself with glee when I heard the news.

The last few weeks of school passed by in a haze of sunshine. We all settled down and dutifully completed our homeworks, tests, and final exams, which I must admit, wasn’t as bad as I nearly expected. But despite all the spring sunshine and impending summer heat, a black cloud unwaveringly hovered over the horizon, and it looked a lot like the state championships.

The day came for us to be taken away to San Antonio. Our coach drove us in a big Chevy Suburban. My mother and sister insisted on coming at the same time, so I knew I wouldn’t be without camaraderie and support from my own family. Some of the girls journeyed a few hours after us to come stay with us. Even though we lost our first match (and our only match), I never felt so at rest among others’ presence. I felt that this year was accomplished and I experienced love, joy, tears, pain, sweat, and friendship more vividly than I ever had in my life.

Because if there’s something I learned from this entire experience, it’s that there will always be a chance.

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