For Kiril Kirkov, the King High School tennis season was only the beginning. For Victor Ke, it was the beginning of the end.
Kirkov and Ke, who are students in King’s International Baccalaureate program, led the Lions to an undefeated season in the districts and a spot in the state championship. Kirkov, the No. 1 player on the King team, was undefeated all season in singles and is looking forward to four more years when he attends Carnegie-Melon University next year to resume his tennis career.
For Ke, this is the end. His last match at state will be his last competitive outing. He is going to the University of Florida, where he wants to be simply a college student.
Their paths might be different, but their goal all season was the same. They are the leaders of a strong King team looking to go further than any school team had ever gone. They proved it with a romp in the regional finals. Of the five King starters, there were only three lost sets. It was so much of a rout that Lakeland forfeited the two doubles matches.
“These guys have been playing out of their minds,” said King coach Pete Adler. “They are great leaders for a great team. They are both tough and the rest of the team was inspired by them.”
Kirkov grew up in Bulgaria and started playing when he turned 4. His family moved to the United States when he turned 12 and, by that time, Kirkov was established as a player with a legitimate future.
“I didn’t know how much talent I had but I knew I could always do better,” Kirkov said. “Now I want to succeed in college. I can do it.”
Ke started a little later. He waited until he was 10 before he started taking it seriously, but once he got going, he never turned back. Ke taught himself how to play and has still never taken a serious lesson. After realizing he enjoyed the game, he started practicing every day and it paid off. He has one three-set loss this season and it still eats at him.
“I just started playing because it was a lot of fun,” said Ke, who wants to major in dentistry. “I’ve had reasons not to practice, but it was always fun to play tennis so I kept at it. I guess I like to focus on being a member of the team. I started by focusing on myself, but it’s more fun to focus on the team.”
Kirkov and Ke both give Adler a lot of credit. Most high school coaches tend to stay out of the way of their prodigies. That’s not how it works at King.
“Coach is the coolest coach ever,” said Kirkov, who wants to major in engineering. “He taught me how to be a team player. That’s how we win.”