NIWOT - Neil Wilcox may be just part of the way through his sophomore season in high school but in terms of Class 4A prep tennis in Colorado, he's quickly becoming a grizzled veteran.
The Niwot ace entered the 2018 season having already reached the No. 1 singles state quarterfinals as a freshman. Setting out to improve on that finish, Wilcox succeeded in reaching the semifinals as a sophomore. Not only did he do that, Wilcox also played on the final day and capped his sophomore campaign by leaving Pueblo City Park with a third-place medal.
For his top-three finish in 2018, Wilcox has been named BoCoPreps.com boys tennis player of the year.
"I felt like I did pretty well," Wilcox said. "I did better against (Colorado Academy's) Richter (Jordaan) when we played CA during the regular season. But I got third so I can't complain. I was more confident going into state this year and I'll just keep working to do even better next year."
As it always goes at the state tournament, Wilcox had to endure defeat and battle his way back through the consolation rounds in order to place third.
After winning his first two matches in straight sets, Wilcox lost 6-1, 6-2 to Jordaan, a senior and the eventual state champion, in the semifinals. He then defeated Steamboat Springs freshman Andy Schuiling in two sets before defeating Kent Denver senior Sam Nassif, 6-1, 7-5 in the third-place match.
With Wilcox leading the way atop their ladder, the Niwot Cougars finished runner-up in the team scoring competition behind team champion Colorado Academy.
"He's definitely going in the right direction and he's definitely going to be a threat," NHS tennis coach Miikka Keronen said. "This year, I believe the podium was him and three seniors. He's right up there with some of the best young players we've seen at Niwot and he plays 20 hours a week, he takes criticism and always wants to learn, so he's definitely motivated to be one of the best."
"It was a great season," Wilcox said. "I think we all played really well. We did a good job of not getting overconfident for the easy matches and staying tough for the hard ones. We came up a little short at state but we'll get them next year."
In all, the Cougars finished runners-up at six of the seven ladder spots.
Wilcox's senior teammate Riley Black finished runner-up at No. 2 singles, as did junior Ben Bicknell at No. 3 singles. Sam Keronen and Manas Saini took second at No. 1 doubles, while Anton Lavrouk and Riley Mulshine took second at No. 2 doubles.
Sam Bickham and Ivan Calderon took third place at No. 3 doubles. At No. 4 doubles, Xavier Moy and Jon Lee finished in second place.
The Cougars have placed in the top four at each of the past nine 4A state tournaments but are still in search of their school's first boys team title.