Gossage turns the tables
Contesting every shot nets title
In the middle of his opponent’s run to win six straight games, Air Academy’s Naish Gaubatz yelled in frustration.
He had the first set all but sewn up, leading 5-1 and up 40-love in the seventh game, but this composed kid on the other side of the net at the Elliott Tennis Center refused to quit. And an abrupt change in momentum stayed with Grand Junction’s Aaron Gossage thereafter as the Tigers’ No. 3 singles player rode it to a championship Saturday at the Western Slope Open boys tennis tournament.
Gossage learned from a former teammate to play every point to the hilt, even in the face of seemingly certain loss, and that lesson netted him a 7-5, 6-3 victory over Gaubatz for one of Grand Junction’s two flight championships in the 16-team tournament that boasted four Class 5A teams ranked in the top 10 in the state, plus two top-10-ranked Class 4A schools.
Gossage admitted he didn’t expect to come back to win that first set, but he wanted to gear up to win the next one because he entered the tournament with a title as his goal. So, he kept contesting every shot, “trying to get my game better for the second set.”
From there, the points mounted.
Gossage’s about-face was possible, in part, because of the example set by former No. 1 singles state champion and three-time state finalist Spencer Weinberg, who was a senior for the Tigers a year ago.
“He’d never give up,” Gossage said of Weinberg. “He was my role model when it comes to playing tennis.
“He wouldn’t give up on any shot. If he knew he was going to lose, he’d still make the other player hit an extra shot.”
Gossage also came back because of another trait: intelligence. When the nervousness he felt early in the match subsided, Gossage’s brain took over. When he realized his first serve wasn’t working, he made sure his second serves stayed in, then resorted to his return game.
“It was a lot of making him hit as many shots as possible because eventually he’d mess up,” Gossage said. “I was more consistent.”
Gossage also thought he got in his opponent’s head, making him think he was coming to the net, forcing him to respond with lower-percentage shots, many of which ended up in the net.
The Tigers’ other champions took a different approach to momentum en route to a title. Grand Junction’s No. 1 doubles team of Max Proietti and Matt Prinster in both of their matches Saturday won the first sets, dropped the second, then regrouped and won 10-point-tiebreaker third sets.
“You realize how short of a set it is,” Proietti said of the ability to regain control in the third set. “You have to get your head in it from the start. And it helps to have a partner to pick you up and pump you up.”
Prinster agreed and said, “We just take a lot of deep breaths and get our minds right. ... When your head’s in the right spot, the shots are going to fall.”
Grand Junction reached the finals in two other flights and got runner-up finishes from Daniel Ness at No. 2 singles and the team of Matthew Ness and Brian List at No. 2 doubles.
Daniel Ness won his semifinal 6-4, 6-1, then made a match of his final against Mountain Vista’s Ben Antonsen before bowing 6-4, 6-3.
“I didn’t necessarily take advantage of the opportunities when I had them,” Ness said. “He was able to get a (service) break on me in each set, and I wasn’t able to get that break back.”
Taking second in a tough tournament, though, was acceptable, as he said, “It’s always great to win, and I had opportunities to do it. I wish I would’ve done better, but I’m not disappointed.”
Matthew Ness and List nearly rallied for a title after a disastrous second set in their final. They started strong, taking the first set 6-2, but Mountain Vista’s Alex Boyarko and Maciek Lazarski won the second set 6-0.
In the 10-point tiebreaker, Ness and List took a 9-7 lead, but Mountain Vista rallied to win 13-11.
Ness said it’s frustrating to come so close to realizing a goal of a Western Slope Open title and not see it through.
List added he shanked a shot when it was 9-7. He estimates it was an inch out of bounds.
“The first three-and-a-half rounds we played (in the two-day tourney) was the best we’ve played so far this year,” Ness said.
Grand Junction coach Carol Elliott said there was a lesson to learn from that final.
“After you win the first set,” she said, “you go out and play just as hard or harder in that second set.”
Grand Junction, which entered the tournament ranked No. 3 in the state in Class 5A, finished third in the team standings behind champion Mountain Vista, Class 5A’s fourth-ranked team, and Denver East, which is ranked eighth.