San Marino's Carter, Gealer double up competition in tennis

SAN MARINO — It takes no less than a few moments or a few yards to notice the various differences in style and play between San Marino High junior Robert Carter and sophomore Danny Gealer.

The 6-foot-3 Carter thrives on physicality and power and isn't bashful letting out a "let's go" cheer that's been known to travel from the tennis courts out onto Huntington Drive.

As for the 5-8 Gealer, perhaps there's no one better at quietly hitting corners and edges all over the court with a speed that eventually frustrates most opponents.

Maybe that's why both players combined to form the area's most lethal pair and were unanimously selected as the All-Area Boys' Tennis Doubles Team of the Year by the sports editors and writers of the Pasadena Sun, La Cañada Valley Sun, Glendale News-Press and Burbank Leader.

"A lot of good teams have partners who are kind of opposites," Gealer said. "I think we definitely are, but we work well together as a team."

The duo combined to go 14-2 this past season and proved a valuable cog for a juggernaut Titans team that finished 22-1, won a Rio Hondo League title, a CIF Southern Section Division II crown and finished runner-up to national top-ranked University in the SoCal Regional Finals.

Yet, perhaps it was at the prestigious 113th annual Ojai Valley Junior Tournament, from April 25-27, where Carter and Gealer had their 2013 breakout party.

"We expected to do well because last year we almost got to the semifinals," Carter said. "Once we looked at our draw, I think we knew we had a chance."

Whereas Carter and Gealer fell to Palos Verdes Peninsula's duo of Jake Hoeger and Nick Tong in the quarterfinals of the Ojai Tournament, 7-5, 3-6, 14-12 in 2012, this time around, Carter and Gealer found even more success.

Carter and Gealer rolled through the first two rounds of this year's tournament, dropping a total of three games.

In the round of 16, Carter and Gealer jumped on San Clemente's Ryan Mariano and Bill Whitaker, winning the first set, 6-0, before Mariano and Whitaker launched a second-set assault.

Mariano and Whitaker battled in the second set, at one time pulling within 4-4, before Carter and Gealer broke serve and won the final two games to take the match 6-0, 6-4.

"What nobody knew at the time was that Robert was not 100%. He had an injured right elbow, but we kept the information internally," Titans Coach Melwin Pereira said. "I honestly thought they were going to lose sometime around the second round, but they battled. Robert did his best, while Danny played unbelievably and carried them to the finals."

In the quarterfinals, Carter and Gealer fell behind, 7-5, to Corona Del Mar's Joshua Kliger and Carson Williams after one set only to claw back and win the last two sets, 6-2, 6-2.

"You could see that they were both fatigued, but they kept on going," Pereira said. "Robert was hurt and was pushing through the injury and Danny was playing all over the place and charging the net."

Carter and Gealer again fell behind, this time, 6-4, to Palos Verdes' top flight duo of Kent Mukai and Brandon Holt in the semifinals. Yet, just as it did the quarterfinals, San Marino's pair rallied, this time winning the second and third sets, 6-3, 6-4.

"Ojai is one of the biggest tournaments out there, so whenever you have a chance to go the finals, you have to take it," Gealer said. "We just went out and tried our best."

San Marino's magic eventually ran out against the University duo of Drew Dawson and Tyler Lu in the finals, as the Titans fell, 3-6, 6-3, 6-3.

"Getting to the finals was hard, but we did it," Carter said. "We pushed all the way to three sets and we had some fun. We played a team with two really good players and they just played a little bit better."

The duo's efforts were in contrast to a few days earlier, when Carter and Gealer struggled somewhat before winning a Rio Hondo League doubles championship by outlasting fellow teammates Nicolas Splichal and Derek Chen, 7-5, 6-3 (10-8).

"League finals was the first time we had played together in a while," Gealer said. "I don't really think we meshed too well in that tournament. I was a little worried, but then a few days later we made it to the finals of Ojai. That's when I knew we'd be OK this year."

During the course of the regular season, Gealer and Carter aided the Titans in different ways. Gealer was the Titans' No. 2 singles player behind ace James Wade and remained in that position throughout the CIF Southern Section playoffs and the SoCal Regional tournament in posting a 16-2 record.

On the other hand, Carter nearly doubled up with half the team, combining with Ryan Lee, Timothy Duong, Ryan Cheng and Splichal just in the postseason in producing a 15-2 record.

Each had a pivotal moment in the Titans' 13-5 victory over Palm Desert in the Division II championship at the Claremont Club on May 17.

Gealer defeated Aztecs singles ace Abe Hewko, a CIF Individual qualifier a year earlier, by a 6-4 score in the first set.

Carter and Cheng later paired for the championship-clinching 10th win, 6-0, over Ryan Marker and Matt Leggat.

"Our goal all year was to win a CIF championship. That's what was missing," Gealer said. "For both of us to have played well in that final was amazing."

Back as a duo again at the CIF-SS Individual Tournament, Carter and Gealer opened with a bye and then two easy wins in the tournament's first day on May 23 at Whittier Narrows.

With the wins, Carter and Gealer advanced to the round of 16 on May 31 at Seal Beach Tennis Club.

The San Marino duo opened with a tough, 6-3, 5-7, 6-4 win against Ocean League champions Alex Smolentsev and Ben Gelfand of Santa Monica that raised some warning flags for Carter.

"We didn't play that consistent in that win and my serve was a little off," Carter said. "I was hoping we could turn it around, but we didn't."

For a second straight season, the Titans' duo fell in the quarterfinals, this time to Mission League champions Harrison Kalt and Dylan Eisner of Harvard-Westlake, 6-2, 6-4, which ended their season.

"It's disappointing because I really think we could have gone further than we did. We could have made the finals," Gealer said. "You look at what we had to get through to get to this point and it's a frustrating end to the season."

While also disappointed, Carter had a slightly different take.

"I can't really be that angry because we tried our best and we lost to a really good team that played better," Carter said. "We have a lot to be proud of and a lot of goals to set for next season."

Responded Gealer, "I'll agree with Robert there. We accomplished a lot, but I'm already looking forward to next year."

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