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University's Brymer is 2012-13 athlete of the year
Even on the drive to his last high school match, a spring day from 2011 remained in the back of Gage Brymer's mind.
It's not that the University tennis star was still dwelling on the loss to Peninsula's Horea Porutiu that ended his bid for an undefeated sophomore season. But that defeat, the lone blemish on an otherwise perfect final three years, was there. It's always there.
"Not that I'm thinking, 'Oh, that might happen again,'" Brymer said. "It's 'that's not going to happen again.'"
At 3 p.m. on June 1, when Alta Loma of Rancho Cucamonga's Victor Brown failed to return one last forehand at Seal Beach Tennis Center, Brymer could officially say he didn't let 'that' happen again.
The 18-year-old had just capped the county's most established four-year boys high school tennis career and arguably the greatest in Southern California history.
Brymer's historical season solidified his selection as the Register's 2012-13 boys athlete of the year. He is the first tennis player honored with this award since Los Alamitos three-sport athlete Kelli Moore in 1987.
This spring, Brymer won his fourth CIF-SS team championship, became just the third three-time winner of both the CIF singles title and the prestigious Ojai Tennis Tournament — the first to three-peat in both — and won his second Easter Bowl. He also became the USTA's top-ranked 18-and-under player.
"It might be the greatest individual performance in the history of CIF tennis," University coach John Kessler said. "What else can you do?"
It's difficult to put Brymer's four-year run in proper context, as players of his caliber rarely play four years of high school tennis, if any at all. Pete Sampras (Palos Verdes) and Taylor Dent (Corona del Mar) each won CIF singles titles as freshmen — a feat that eluded Brymer — but turned pro shortly after.
This much is certain: No SoCal player has matched Brymer's accomplishments over a full four years.
"As far as longevity, obviously he's the best," said former Corona del Mar coach Tim Mang, now the executive director of the National High School Tennis All-American Foundation. "He is the only one who's come along at that level who's played four years of high school tennis."
Brymer's forehand is the shot opponents praise the most. San Marino's James Wade, a victim of Brymer's in the semifinals of the Ojai and the CIF Individuals tournaments, said "once you get in those forehand rallies with him, you don't have much of a chance."
"He's not going to give you free points," Wade said after the CIF semifinals. "You have to grind every single point. That's probably the toughest (part of playing him). It's easy to lose focus out here, you know, for one or two points, but you can't afford to do that against Gage."
Brymer's senior-year success was a long time in the making. Home videos prove he first picked up a racket at age 2. Getting to this point has been a process full of daily 6 a.m. runs and long hours at Woodbridge Tennis Club. It's all paid off.
After graduation and summer tournaments, Brymer will begin the next chapter of his tennis career at UCLA. If the next four years bear any resemblance to his days at University, tennis fans in Westwood are in for something special.