MASON, Ohio — Family members and friends accompanying Pierce Wilcoxon on Friday, at least in assumption, were talking about heading over to Kings Island.
Unfortunately, they were all hoping for a little longer stay across the street.
That’s because Wilcoxon and Miguel Velasco, the Gallia Academy High School tennis doubles team, lost their opening-round match on Friday in straight sets — falling 6-1, 6-0 at the Division II state tournament inside the outdoor Lindner Family Tennis Center in Mason.
Wilcoxon and Velasco — the Division II Southeast sectional and Southeast-East District champions —lost in only 50 minutes to the junior tandem of George Arenas and Kyle Demers from Cincinnati Wyoming.
The Blue Devil duo dropped the first five games in the opening set, before scoring its only point.
However, the Cowboy combination —having played together longer and totally in sync on Friday — finished off the match with the final seven points.
Arenas and Demers were the Southwest District’s third-seeded qualifier out of four from its district tournament, but the Cowboys’ chemistry and hard-hitting serves and returns had Wilcoxon and Velasco visibly struggling.
For the junior Wilcoxon, it was his second consecutive appearance in the state doubles tournament, as he paired with his sister Ana a year ago.
The Wilcoxons were swept by the senior tandem from Gates Mills Hawken (6-0, 6-1), but the prevailing thought was Wilcoxon and Velasco — part of the GAHS foreign-exchange student program —might win a match or two.
But, simply put, Cincinnati Wyoming was just too tough.
Friday’s loss was the Blue Devils’ first defeat — following winning the opening, and minimum, 16 postseason sets.
For those into counting, that’s 10 sets in sweeping five sectional matches, followed by six more sets in capturing their three district tilts.
“They (Arenas and Demers) could hit a lot harder than what we are used to,” said Wilcoxon. “The balls we lobbed over to them, they could hit overheads anywhere they wanted to. Just like last year, it was a tough opponent. There’s nothing you can take away from them. They played a really good match. They knew what they were doing out there.”
Perhaps the biggest advantage was Wyoming’s experience as a team, while Wilcoxon and Velasco paired up exclusively for this postseason.
Friday’s match marked only their ninth.
“You could tell they (Blue Devils) played a team that has played a lot of matches together and for a while,” said Gallia Academy coach Randy Christian. “They were well-coached too. They have their game together for sure.”
Both Wilcoxon and Christian commented that the Southwest District is arguably the strongest in terms of tennis talent — and depth.
“It sucks that we got matched up with the third seed from the Southwest District, because that’s probably the best one (district) in Ohio. It’s a bit unlucky,” said Wilcoxon.
The Lindner Family Tennis Center hosts the professional tour’s Western & Southern Open in August, and there are multiple indoor and outdoor facilities around the greater Cincinnati area.
“The teams and the players in this area have teaching professionals year-round that they work with,” said Christian. “And they get to play indoors year-round, where in our area it’s just a spring sport for a lot of guys.”
But for Velasco and Wilcoxon, “they played great tennis all year long” at first and second singles respectively —prior to pairing for the tournament.
Wilcoxon went undefeated at 13-0 as a singles player, then only lost five entire games in eight matches with Velasco before Friday.
His regular-season game record was an impressive 156-15, as the sectional championship was his third straight — followed by three district tournaments of reaching the semifinals or beyond.
Velasco’s lone league losses were against Jackson senior Connor Radune, who qualified for the Division II state singles tournament as the district champion— and lost 6-0, 6-0 to defending state champion Kevin Yu of Cincinnati Country Day.
“To play singles all year long and not even play doubles one time together until the sectionals…they were outstanding,” said Christian. “They complemented each other perfectly. Just ran up against a powerhouse team here today. We’re happy though. We got here and we supported our little town in Southeast Ohio and that’s what matters.”
For Velasco, his small-town life becomes a large nation again.
He will be heading back home to Spain this week, but he certainly enjoyed his stay in the United States — and at Gallia Academy.
“It was really fun and a great experience this year playing soccer and tennis for Gallia Academy, and making it here to the state with Pierce (Wilcoxon),” said Velasco.
Wilcoxon, meanwhile, was asked to compare his two state trips — and said his goal is to make it back for the third and final time.
“We tried our best. Ana and I were more defensive and passive players, not necessarily attacking players. Having Miguel as my partner, he could hit a lot of shots that I couldn’t hit or my sister couldn’t hit,” he said. “We’re proud that we got here again this year, and we’ll try to get here again next year.”
Only next year, maybe the Kings Island adventure will wait a little longer.
Paul Boggs can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2106
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