ANN ARBOR – Eric Gajar isn’t ready to step away from coaching just yet.
Despite helping guide Ann Arbor Greenhills’ boys tennis team to its 15th state title last month, the Hall of Fame coach still has the itch to lead his players to success on the court.
“I’ve put it in the universe that it’s not going to be a ton longer,” Gajar said. “I say that every year during the season and then I get a month out and I realize how much I like what I’m doing.”
Gajar originally had timed his retirement from tennis with coaching his youngest son through his high school graduation, which would have been this year.
But his son stopped playing tennis in the seventh grade and Gajar continued to coach the Gryphons to new heights.
He saw his team take home the Division 4 state title this season, cruising to a second straight championship by winning seven of the eight flights.
What made this season different for Gajar and the team was the fact that seven of the 12 players were new to varsity tennis to start the year.
“Usually, we don’t have to introduce so many new guys to the squad,” Gajar said. “I was pleasantly surprised.”
It didn’t seem to matter much as the Gryphons saw Teddy Staebler (No. 2), Charlie Rich (No. 3) and Murli Pandey (No. 4) all bring home singles titles. No. 1 singles player Kabir Rajendra finished as state runner-up.
In addition, Greenhills claimed all four doubles championships with Lucas Nor and Alex Ye won (No. 1), Charles Branch and Ajay Purohit (No. 2), Richard Wu and William Pearce (No. 3) and Shyam Pandey and Maksim Rakic-Denis (No. 4) all secure titles to aid in the team’s dominance.
The inexperience proved to not be much of a hindrance thanks to the culture that Gajar helped build in the nearly 30 years he has been the coach.
It also didn’t hurt that Gajar loaded the schedule with the best teams in the state to help his team prepare for the finals.
“It’s a tribute to the schedule we play,” Gajar said. “These guys all year long are playing against top teams across all divisions, our league, so they’re pretty battle tested. It’s great preparation so that by the time you get to the end of the season, you have seen it all.”
The Gryphons have seen it all with Gajar at the helm, and then some.
He’s developed the team into one of the premier programs in the state, which was highlighted by all four singles players and all four doubles teams earning first team all-state honors this week.
“I think they peaked at the right time,” Gajar said. “They were playing their best tennis at the end.”
Still, with the success Gajar and his program continue to have, he says he does see the end of his coaching career coming within the next decade.
“It’s within the next handful of years, I would say,” he said. “It’s been a good run, but it takes its toll. There are a couple more years at least, but I wouldn’t say much beyond that.”
While the end might be near for Gajar, it won’t be next year, and the goal will remain the same.
“Defending the title is always harder than achieving it,” Gajar said. “We will, at least on paper, be the favorites and I think the guys embrace that and welcome the challenge of being the hunted rather than the hunters.”