Coming from two different continents, Santiago Altieri and Christian Rambousek connected on the tennis court.
Altieri joined the Washougal High School team as a foreign exchange student from Chaco, Argentina. He formed a partnership with Rambousek, one of the top returning seniors for the Panthers. Together they captured the 2A sub-district doubles championship Saturday, at the Mint Valley Racquet Club in Longview.
“The entire experience has been wonderful,” Altieri said.
“We don’t give up,” Rambousek added. “Ever since I was a freshman, it’s been a dream of mine to win sub-districts. I really want to go to state this year, and this is a good start.”
Rambousek and Altieri defeated Hudson’s Bay’s Bailey Ridgway and Aleks Mertvyy 7-5, 6-4 in the championship match. They were down 2-5 before winning the next five games to claim the first set.
“It was nice having the momentum on your side,” Rambousek said. “Still, we weren’t celebrating yet. The next four or five games were long deuces. It could have gone either way.”
After grabbing a commanding lead in the second set, Rambousek and Altieri broke their opponents’ serve to win the match.
“That was a huge surprise to us. The last time we played them, we lost 1-6, 1-6,” Altieri said. “Tennis is one point at a time, one game at a time, one set at a time, and then the match.”
Altieri and Rambousek played with that mindset during a grueling semifinal match that went to a double tiebreaker. The Panthers beat R.A. Long’s David Pang and Yan Kaufman 7-6 (7-4), 7-6 (9-7).
Down 3-6 in the second tiebreaker, it was gut check time for Altieri and Rambousek.
“I didn’t want to go to a third set,” Altieri said.
“And the next three points, we played flawlessly,” Rambousek added.
The Panthers gained a 7-6 advantage in the tiebreaker, but needed to win by two.
“At that point, we were in their heads,” Altieri said.
The Lumberjacks managed to even the score at 7-7, before Altieri and Rambousek earned the last two points to win the match.
“That’s all part of never give up,” Altieri said. “Never stop smiling, even if you make a mistake. Never stop trying.”
Washougal head coach Angela Watts said she couldn’t sit down at any time during the semifinals and finals. She went down to the court to congratulate the Panthers with tears in her eyes.
“It’s such a brotherhood. They have become such close friends, and that just carries over to the court,” Watts said. “They just persevered. They outlasted their opponents.”
Watts said the same thing about Greg Lyall, who finished in third place in the single’s bracket for the Panthers.
Lyall lost to Paul Copeland, of Hudson’s Bay in the first round. He then won three matches in a row to get another crack at Copeland in the consolation finals. Lyall rallied from a 2-5 deficit in the second set to win the rematch 6-2, 7-5.
“[Lyall] played amazing in this tournament,” Watts said. “He knows this is where it counts. It’s his senior year. He’s got nothing to lose and everything to gain.”
Rambousek, Altieri and Lyall will represent Washougal in the district tournament Friday and Saturday, at the Capital Tennis & Athletic Center in Tumwater.
“I’m happy I get to experience all of this with them, and see the enjoyment on their faces when they win,” Watts said. “They showed up every day to practice, put in the extra time on the weekends and it pays off. They earned it.”