The match was already decided, but the best drama had yet to come.
The San Luis Obispo High boys tennis team—in the CIF-Southern Section divisional semifinals for the first time since reaching the finals in 2001 — had lost 10 of 11 sets to open the home match against No. 2 seed Diamond Bar (22-1), clinching the win for the Brahmas.
Nothing had gone right for the No. 3 Tigers (19-3). Hoping to split the first round of six singles and doubles sets 3-3, San Luis Obispo lost all six in a match they’d go on to drop 13-5.
The Tigers’ top singles player, Julian Arnold, suffered a shocking 6-2 defeat to Diamond Bar’s No. 2 player Sam Kim in the first round.
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San Luis Obispo’s best doubles team, Jared Belsher and Dov Kadin, led by a game most of its set but ended up losing in a tiebreaker 7-6 (7-5) in their first match.
And the Tigers’ other top doubles team, twins Brian and Mike Hicks, fell behind 4-1, their comeback effort stopping short in a 7-5 loss on an adjacent court.
“We needed everything to go right for us to beat this team,” Arnold said, “and nothing was going right for us.”
So with San Luis Obispo’s playoff run ended and little on the line but pride, Arnold and Brahmas No. 1 player Victor Chien delivered the set of the year.
Through three lead changes, a devastating leg cramp and a single game that seemed to last forever, Arnold and Chien kept the crowd —a group of 100-plus perched on the grass around the courts — completely riveted.
Each player let out a roar after scoring a point, but each time Arnold did it, his was almost drowned out by supporters.
It was the biggest crowd of Arnold fans the sophomore singles player had ever played in front of and the loudest Chien had played against.
“I was just trying to block it out as best I can,” Chien said. “It’s pretty hard to ignore a huge crowd. It definitely gave him an edge.”
Arnold took the early 1-0 lead. Chien turned the tide at 3-2, and after an Arnold turn at serve that Mike Hicks called the longest game ever and went to deuce more than anybody dared to count, Chien was up 6-5.
Chien next hit a winner past Arnold in the left corner, which resulted in the sliding Tiger laying crumpled in a heap on the court and yelling out, “leg cramp!” as San Luis Obispo coach Ken Peet hastily navigated the chain link maze to check on him.
Arnold was up minutes later, putting the finishing touches on a 7-6 (7-2) win.
“Julian was a good example of what our team is about,” Peet said. “He had a tough day. He was not playing his best tennis, but he gutted it out.”
The Tigers, who return all but seniors Scott Freeberg and Jason Weddle next season, could be facing Diamond Bar in the playoffs again next season. The Brahmas will only lose one player to graduation.
San Luis Obispo will have plenty back to combat them but, Arnold said, loses a lot without Freeberg, who along with first-time doubles partner Robbie Milla, a freshman, made up the only unit including singles players to take multiple sets from Diamond Bar.
Freeberg said he fed off the crowd, the biggest he’d seen at San Luis Obispo High.
“It was a great thing to have them here,” Freeberg said. “It makes you try that much harder.”