In a span of four years, Jake Michaels has successfully been able to hold court.
That short time frame has seen the Laguna Beach High senior go from novice to an accomplished junior player who in May won his first Orange Coast League singles title. He also was a driving force behind the Breakers' run to a CIF Southern Section Division 4 finals appearance earlier this month at Claremont Club.
Not bad for an athlete who said he first picked up a racquet at age 10 and played only once a month until, at 15, he began to play tennis daily.
Playing national soccer, he said, took up most his sports calendar between the ages of 6 and 15.
"We had a great season this year," he said of the Breakers, who finished runner-up to the Division 4 crown to defending-champion Viewpoint. "We had high aspirations coming into the season and we were able to live up to our expectations by making it to the CIF championship."
Michaels' three-year varsity tennis career at Laguna included a recovery from a foot injury his junior year. This year, the 19-year-old had a foot up on most of his competition and stepped forward as a team leader.
"He was a leader who really wanted to keep the kids focused and motivated," first-year Laguna boys' tennis Coach Peter Davidson said of Michaels. "He would have liked to have gone out winning a CIF championship, but it didn't work out that way and you can't win them all.
"He's a great athlete who actually has a greater background in soccer than tennis, and he's really shown his athleticism on the court this year. He still has plenty of room to grow as a player. He's got this aggressive game and he goes to the net, which I love."
As a player on the junior circuit, Michaels has 10 tournament championships and eight tournament finalist appearances on his résumé. At Laguna, he was on two Breakers teams that played in a CIF title match and advanced three times to the CIF Individuals tournament.
Laguna also finished runner-up to a CIF title in 2009.
"My confidence and comfort on the court have grown tremendously over the last four years," he said.
Off the court, Michaels holds a 4.2 overall grade-point average — 4.3, he noted, over the last three years — and is a member of the National Honor Society. During his junior year, he created the Super Sports Club on campus. He describes it as a "Special Education/General Education integration club, where varsity athletes play sports with Special Education students" each Wednesday during the lunch period.
"In the beginning of my junior year, I witnessed an unfortunately hurtful interaction between a General Ed student and a Special Ed student," Michaels said. "Upon seeing this exchange, I was compelled to create an environment where Special Ed and General Ed can bond through sports. I was passionate to get the club off the ground and expand it to other high schools so that I could hopefully lessen the likelihood of future hurtful engagements between Special Ed and the General Ed."
Michaels said the Super Sports Club has expanded to the campuses of Corona del Mar and Dana Hills and that he will stay active with the club after graduation next week.
In July, he will play in a couple of Intercollegiate Tennis Assn. tournaments and then spend most of the summer on the East Coast playing the ITA Ivy League Summer Circuit. It's a perfect segue into the next phase of his life and tennis career: attending Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y.
Michaels is part of a Cornell recruiting class that has been rated fifth nationally by tennisrecruiting.com. He is the lone Californian on the Big Red's nine-player recruiting class for 2011. He said he was recruited for tennis by Cornell, Boston College, Boston University, New York University, Carnegie Mellon and Villanova. He had been accepted to those schools — which included the NYU Stern School of Business — and also Cal, USC andUCLA.
Ivy League schools don't offer athletic scholarships, but Michaels said he has a "renewable leadership scholarship" through Cornell's Meinig Family National Scholar Program.
"I wanted to experience something different from Southern California, which is where I've grown up," he said, explaining his decision to head east.
He said he will study hotel administration at Cornell. He also would like give the pro tour "a shot" after college and then go into hotel administration. He aspires to owning his own hotel chain.
He even plans to bring the Super Sports Club to high schools near the Cornell campus.
"I wanted to start the next chapter completely new and away from everything I'm comfortable with," he said. "The Cornell tennis program is on a solid incline with brand new coach Tony Bresky, who came from Virginia. This year, Cornell won its first Ivy League tennis title. I wanted to be a part of a program with a mix of solid Division 1 tennis, while still maintaining the strong academic aspect of my life."
Davidson says Michaels has a bright future on the court.
"He has such a great work ethic and will continue to improve," he said. "I think he'll get better the more matches he plays. An old coach of mine said you need to play 1,000 matches to get there. I think Jake's going to have a great career at Cornell."