The Berkley High tennis team couldn’t hide its emotions when No. 4 singles player Sam Subia clinched the final point in their Division 2 regional to send the Bears to the state final.
“We were just elated. Our team hadn’t been to the state tournament since 1999,” coach Lenny Waldman said. “The time before that, I believe was 1984. It had been quite some time since we had gone. Once we learned about that final point, all my boys ran onto the court.”
The Bears made the best of the opportunity in the state final Oct. 19-20 at split locations between Holly and Fenton, finishing 10th overall: its best finish in 28 years.
“I think we were the big surprise of the tournament. We were the underdogs, but everyone knew that we still had a respectable program,” Waldman said. “We’re not a Birmingham program … and definitely not Andover or Troy, but we worked hard at building a program. We built a JV program three or four years ago. Our goal is to do what we can to compete with these programs. This was far from a fluke.”
The Bears finished fifth in the Oakland Activities Association White Division, but Waldman believed they had a state-final run in them all along.
“We ride these kids, we push them, and we got them to finally believe in themselves — that they truly are champions. We always hold them to a higher level, a higher degree,” Waldman said. “Once they got to the league meet and then the regional, they started believing it. They truly started to believe that cliché of, ‘If you believe it, you can achieve it,’ and winning became a part of their mindset. A lot of them played with true heart.”
Waldman said Subia personified it as much as anyone. In the state final, he entered his flight unseeded, then proceeded to win his first two matches before losing in three sets in the semifinals.
Subia won each of his matches in three sets and fought off seven match points in the second round. He beat the No. 6 and No. 3 seeds for his top-four finish.
“I had coaches from Midland Dow, Seaholm and others walking up to me saying, ‘Wow, this is what it’s all about. You have to be so proud of that young man,’” Waldman said. “I had never seen a player elevate to that level from where they were in the regular season.”