As the only son of a former USC tennis standout and European tour professional, Jake Michaels seemed destined to become Laguna Beach High’s top player. Yet, five years ago, Michaels was neither living in Laguna Beach nor playing competitive tennis.
The family moved from Temecula to Laguna before Jake’s freshman year. But Greg Michaels decided long ago that his son needed to choose his own sports interests. “He never really pushed me into tennis because he didn’t want me to get burned out on the game,” said Jake, who first picked up a racket when he was 6 but didn’t find his passion for the game until eighth grade. “Six until 14, I was all soccer,” he said.
Though many of Michaels’ opponents have been competing more than twice as long, the relative newcomer attributes his passion for the game to his late arrival. “I’ve still got that drive that I want to do big things with tennis,” he said.
When at 14 Michaels switched sports, his tennis-loving father was there to guide him. “What’s funny is he was actually my soccer coach too,” said Jake.
Michaels’ talents were validated in April of 2009 when he earned OC Register player of the week honors as a sophomore for impressive three-set wins over Foothill and St. Margaret’s. As Laguna’s number one singles player that season, he led the Breakers to their first CIF championship appearance in 26 years.
The Breakers lost to Cerritos in the finals, and Michaels took a beating from the Don’s number one player and fellow sophomore Pilki Min. Michaels later beat Min in the CIF individual tournament and again last Monday as the two seniors went head to head on the home courts. Michaels won the battle 6-1 but Cerritos won the war over Laguna 10-8. “I think it was a good wake up call for us,” said Michaels, who with fellow senior and No. 2 singles player Benito Romeo called an impromptu team meeting after the match. “We just need to focus and give it everything that we got if we want to win CIF,” he told his teammates.
“He’s just a natural leader,” said first year coach Peter Davidson. “He makes my job easy.”
Davidson, like his predecessor Aaron Talarico, played four years of varsity tennis for LBHS and was a member of Laguna’s last CIF championship team in 1983. As with many Laguna teens before and since, Davidson’s opportunity to play division one college sports was lost at sea. “I like to surf, frankly,” said the laid back and ever positive coach.
Ironically, Davidson stumbled on his new position when his eighth grade son Taylor, like Jake, decided he wanted try out for the high school tennis team after years playing soccer. Davidson contacted Talarico, who mentioned he was looking for a replacement because of a new job commitment. “I just thought [the coaching job] was good, and I could be with my son,” Davidson said.
After a stellar sophomore year, Michaels appeared on track for the next level. But uncertainty clouded his future that summer when a stress fracture in his foot reached the breaking point during a USTA tournament in Hawaii. “I just felt it snap,” he said.
The timing of the injury couldn’t have been worse. He was about to enter his junior season, when college recruiters begin their talent search, and he had to decide whether to put his rehabbed foot through the rigors of the high school tennis season or pick and choose USTA events and make a measured comeback. He chose the latter. “It was definitely a tough decision,” he said. “Had I not broken my foot, I would have played the season.”
“I’m glad he’s back playing,” said Davidson. “I think it’s a huge benefit.”
Although the Breakers surely missed his leadership and talent during a season that ended at the semifinals of CIF, Michaels did what he thought was best for his tennis future, which continues next season at Cornell University.
Michaels is as relaxed and approachable off the court as he is focused and intense on it. And school is his release. “I just love interacting with people,” said the affable homecoming king and founder of Super Sports Club, in its second year organizing athletic pursuits for special needs students at LBHS.
Michaels and students from three nearby high schools that he met at a special-kids camp this summer started a Super Sports league that hopes to host a kick ball competition before the school year is out. “Everyone’s going to be a winner,” he said.
And if he and his teammates can regain and keep their focus, they have a good shot being winners as well come CIF playoffs.