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Arjun Brahmbhatt '20 Builds Culture of Selflessness and Resilience for Tennis Cats

By Joe Ginley '12 , 04/11/20, 11:45AM EDT


Brahmbhatt has starred for the Wildcats since he arrived on the tennis scene in 2017. He's hoping to join the rare club of 4-year letterwinners.

The Arjun Brahmbhatt story is one of resilience and toughness.

The Westlake native entered the Saint Ignatius tennis program as a shining star in 2017, earning a spot on the varsity squad as a freshman and showcasing his immense talent. 

But injuries, and now a global pandemic, have threatened to curtail a promising tennis career. 

In the face of adversity, the senior is unflinching. During Brahmbhatt's time at Saint Ignatius, he's fought back from injuries, and now he's working to stay prepared in case spring does bring tennis. 

Way back in 2016, Brahmbhatt chose Saint Ignatius over other schools in part because of the people. During his Wildcat for a Day experience, Brahmbhatt fell in love with the school and the campus. Knowing several members of the tennis team helped plenty, as Richie Hofstra '18, Brian Zhu '18, and Jack McNally '19 were friends with the young phenom. 

Having veteran leadership in place made his freshman year at Saint Ignatius easier. Brahmbhatt attended public grade school in Westlake before coming to Saint Ignatius, but the veterans on the team made his transition easy. Brahmbhatt thoroughly enjoyed his freshman campaign, playing under then-coach Jon Barker '87, also a math teacher at Saint Ignatius.

Unfortunately, an injury late in the season derailed his first season, preventing a run to the state tournament. But Brahmbhatt still enjoyed the ride.

Graduations led to a different and younger roster for Brahmbhatt's sophomore season. Barker also handed the reins off to new head coach Bobbe Bennett. Brahmbhatt and Bennett had familiarity with each other, smoothing the transition. While working at the now-closed Five Seasons club in Westlake, Bennett became acquainted with the super athletic youngster. Brahmbhatt was already a hard worker at 10 years old, just about a year after he first started playing tennis. 

Under Bennett, Brahmbhatt thrived in his sophomore season. He assumed the role of No. 1 singles player, the leader of the squad. The spot requires leadership and maturity. Brahmbhatt quickly showed he was up to the challenge.

"In that spot, you have to know how to be able to lead a team. It's not as easy as it looks," Brahmbhatt said. "It's definitely challenging, but it's a good thing to learn."  

On the court, Brahmbhatt showcased immense talent. He roared past just about every opponent, rolling to victory after victory. But just as importantly, his leadership qualities emerged.

With the postseason drawing near, Brahmbhatt made an incredibly mature decision. Brahmbhatt decided to team up with Brian Zhu '18 to open a singles spot for another Wildcat at the District Tournament. 

"As I was thinking about moving him to doubles, Arjun approached me about it," Bennett said. "He made the decision for the betterment of his team and for his teammate. He showed so much maturity in that moment."

In the process, Brahmbhatt's dream of making the state tournament was realized.

The sophomore-senior combo of Brahmbhatt and Zhu worked to perfection. The duo qualified for the state tourney along with Richie Hofstra '18 and Nate Day '21.  

"It was pretty cool to make States together," said Brahmbhatt said. "I knew there would be so many tournaments in summer for me pick up rankings. I'd have plenty of time to play singles. The state tournament was such a cool experience. We played at the site of the Cincinnati Open. It was cool knowing that pros play there. And beyond that, it was a great team bonding trip. Staying in the hotel as a team and being together was great. It was fun to be able to get to the tournament and play in it. 

At the end of the year, Bennett marveled at Brahmbhatt's progress and talent, along with his 18-1 individual record. 

"That was a great year for him," she said. "It was time for him to come into more of a leadership role, with strong seniors graduating the year before. It was a chance for him to step into the No. 1 spot and be the leader. He embraced wholeheartedly and did great."

Brahmbhatt's junior season should have been a further step in his development. The 2019 campaign should have brought plenty of success and another berth to the big dance. But a severe wrist injury dampened the plans.

The injury held Brahmbhatt out for almost all of the season. It threatened to completely end his junior year.

"This was a severe injury, we thought he might be out for the year," Bennett said. "But Arjun said, 'No, I'm going to work hard in physical therapy, and give it a shot.' He could have called it quits for the season, and no one would have thought any otherwise. But his determination to come back shows his character."

Working hard to recuperate, Brahmbhatt rehabbed the injury enough to play on it in May. Brahmbhatt returned in time for the final three matches of the regular season and then the playoffs.

Playing at the No. 1 singles spot, Brahmbhatt did well at the Sectional Tournament. He entered Districts with the hopes of emerging and heading to Cincinnati, despite the nagging pain in his wrist. His hopes were dashed by a red-hot opponent from Solon who had the benefit of a full season to ready himself for the moment. 

But the fact that Brahmbhatt even came back from the injury stands as impressive. 

In the summer, Brahmbhatt continued to rehab and work as hard as possible. He played in a lot of tournaments, traveling across the Midwest. Most notably, he played in the Team Cup in Indianapolis after establishing himself as one of the top eight players in Northeast Ohio. Bennett noted that Brahmbhatt added more power to his serve and improved his game significantly. 

With the nationwide outbreak of COVID-19, the chances of a spring season seem to be dwindling. But that's not dampening Arjun's hopes.

"I'm hoping that maybe they make the season shorter," Brahmbhatt said. "Maybe I can finish off my senior year by making it to the State Tournament. Hopefully, we have a chance to play."

In the meantime, Brahmbhatt will never forget his time at Wildcat High. 

"Honestly, I've had lots of injuries, and they've taught me not to take any moments for granted," he said. "It can be taken away from you quickly. But it's been good to have a fun team atmosphere and good guys around me. I've met all of these new friends. I've met a group of guys I'm good friends with. I'll never forget the time with them."

And even if the season is called off, Brahmbhatt has a bright future ahead. 

Brahmbhatt plans on heading to The Ohio State University in the fall. The Westlake native has always loved watching the Buckeyes on the football field, and has dreamed of attending the prominent Columbus school since he was a little kid.

Academically, Brahmbhatt plans on majoring in biology. His ambitions in the subject began during his freshman year with John Cooney '67. Brahmbhatt calls Cooney one of his favorite teachers, along with Mike Howard, Hon. '19. Cooney remembers Brahmbhatt fondly as a great student. 

"He's very quiet and unassuming. A solid student," Cooney said. "He never let on that he was a tennis player, and a good one.  He seemed to understand that he was a freshman and had to earn everyone's respect. He didn't look for any shortcuts or favors because he possessed superior talent in a sport. He's the kind of kid that you hope all of our athletes are. Also, a great kid to have in biology class."

Athletically, even if the season does not commence, Brahmbhatt plans on trying out for Ohio State's club tennis team. The Buckeyes' "A" club team is very good, so Brahmbhatt might try to make it and extend his career a while.

Either way, Bennett and the Wildcats have been happy to have him as part of the program. When he graduates, Brahmbhatt will leave behind a good foundation for future players. 

"He started out as a quiet kid, but he's opened up a lot more," Bennett said. "He's very funny and witty funny kid. I've really enjoyed getting to know him over the last three years. He hasn't been a vocal leader, but he's led by example. If you don't do it, others won't want to follow. He does what he needs to do, and others follow his lead. He's left a legacy of leadership and established a hard-working culture for the younger guys to continue next year and beyond."