HUNTINGTON — Sam Haikal will serve in the service in more ways than one.
Haikal, a former Huntington High School tennis state champion now at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, has committed to play at the United States Military Academy at West Point. Haikal chose the service academy over Bucknell, Davidson, Cleveland State, Pepperdine and Siena.
“It was a long process and I’m glad it’s over,” Haikal said. “I went there for a visit and it’s a beautiful place. I love the military aspect and the structure. The players are nice guys and we got along well. I knew some about it because my dad went there for two years.”
Haikal won an individual state championship as a freshman for the Highlanders, defeating Parkersburg’s Neema Saadevandi in straight sets at No. 2 singles. Haikal helped the Highlanders win a team title that season.
Haikal said he loved Huntington High but is glad he went to IMG Academy.
“It’s been a great two years,” Haikal said. “It’s made me become more independent and do things on my own. As for tennis, I had the technical things down, but I’ve improved my tennis IQ. It’s not all about hitting the ball as hard as I can.”
IMG Academy provides a step up in competition. Haikal has played some of the nation’s stronger players in elite events, challenging him and helping improve his skills.
Haikal played baseball and basketball when he was younger, but gave up other sports to concentrate on tennis. Brothers Nathan, Noah and Ben have found their respective niches in other sports.
The rigors of being a NCAA student-athlete is taxing enough. Add the demands of a military academy and Haikal’s time management skills will be tested more than ever.
Haikal said playing at Army will provide inspiration and that he’s prepared for the military commitment that comes with graduation.
“It’s an honor, honestly, to go there,” said Haikal, who plans to major in international affairs. “It’s a chance for me to be able to give back and serve.”