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Prep tennis: Thirsting with pride

Cents senior will represent Saugus before fighting for his country

Posted: May 10, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: May 10, 2011 1:55 a.m.

After graduation, Saugus senior tennis player Sagie Mofsowitz plans to move back to his native Israel and join the army. First, he’ll represent Saugus in the postseason.

 

Competing in Foothill League tennis at the varsity level is no picnic.

Like any other sport, it requires countless hours of practice and repetition. It takes both physical skill and mental toughness.

Saugus senior Sagie Mofsowitz possesses all these qualities — enough to have earned him a spot as a starting singles player on the team.

And yet, at age 17 and with roughly five years of experience at the sport, Mofsowitz doesn’t consider himself a tennis player.

“I see myself as someone who is better from a tennis experience and I wouldn’t regret anything I’ve ever done,” Mofsowitz says. “I see myself as a student. I see myself as soldier.”

He points to players like Valencia’s J.R. Macalutas and Canyon’s Jason Ferlianto as what he considers tennis players. In other words, those two, who happen to be the last two Foothill League individual singles champions, have aspirations of competing at the next level.

Mofsowitz has other plans.

After graduation, he plans to move back to his birthplace and join the Israeli army.

He made the decision recently, as he began to invest more and more time into the local Jewish community.

Though his family moved to the United States when Mofsowitz was just two months old, he’s always maintained a high level of cultural pride.

“A little part of him was always (in Israel),” says Sagie’s mother, Hagit. “He came over at a very young age. For some reason, a little part of him was always over there.”

The idea came to him last summer when his classmates started applying to college and making other post-high school plans.

In Israel, all citizens are required to serve at least three years in the armed services when they reach age 18. As a dual citizen of the United States and Israel, Mofsowitz feels it’s his duty to do the same. Both his mother and father, Ram, served in the 1980s.

Since the decision, Sagie has expanded his involvement in the synagogue, Congregation Beth Shalom, one of the Santa Clarita Valley’s only Jewish places of gathering.

He teaches grade-school kids Hebrew three times a week at Congregation Beth Shalom, in addition to his usual once-a-week prayer and sometimes rigorous tennis schedule.

“There have been some time conflicts, but I know that Sagie really cares about (his religion) and he really cares about tennis,” says Saugus tennis head coach Allan Hardbarger. “Sometimes as a coach, you have to let a guy do what’s right.”

Even with the time conflicts, tennis has remained a priority for Sagie, especially during his senior season — which will soon include his first appearance in a CIF-Southern Section Division II playoff match.

He and a veteran group of players rallied late in the season to earn Saugus a third-place finish in league, thereby giving the team its first playoff berth since 1996.

Going in to the final match of the season, the Centurions were one game ahead of Hart and needed a win to clinch an automatic playoff bid.

That match against Hart on April 28 came down to the last couple of sets.

Sagie needed to win his final set of the afternoon against Hart’s No. 1 singles player, David Afework. After losing to Afework earlier in the season, Sagie changed his strategy and pulled off a 6-1 win to take the set, helping his team to a 10-8 overall victory.

“I guess it was more pressure on me personally because I just wanted to go out with a bang and win that set,” Sagie says.

That match capped off a regular season during which Sagie overcame early struggles in the transition from doubles to singles.

“He’s in a tough position, because he was primarily used in doubles for his freshman, sophomore and junior years,” Hardbarger says. “And this year, we really needed him in singles and he was able to step up and win some big sets for us.”

Though Sagie picked up the sport in eighth grade, he hasn’t had much formal training outside of the school’s coaches. His willingness to continuously improve has paid off every year for the lefty, who all but picked tennis randomly after he was cut from a seventh-grade basketball team.

“I got cut from my basketball team, and my mom told me I needed a sport,” Sagie says.

Once he did choose it, Sagie went into it head-first. That’s how he was taught to do things. That’s the environment he grew up with.

“I think sports are an important personality builder,” Hagit says. “I think it helps them build competitiveness. I think it makes them strong and makes them tough.”

It’s the same set of skills Hagit had to learn herself when she served in the Israeli military.

More than anything, though, Sagie wants to be accepted into the country he’s only visited a handful of times in his life.

“I really want to try to reduce that gap,” Sagie says. “I don’t want to be the special treatment guy. I don’t want to get special treatment where they say, ‘He gets an extra week off because he’s from America.”

The process is similar to the U.S. military. Sagie will first go through a few months of basic training before breaking into his unit for more specialized training. He’ll be required to serve three years, after which he says his plans are up in the air.

He hasn’t yet decided what unit to join.

He already has one unit to worry about right now — and it’s preparing for a playoff match.

“He loves being on the team,” Hardbarger says. “He loves being with the guys. It’s all about the team with him.”

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