Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect an error regarding the name of Neil Wilcox’s brother.
Niwot ace Neil Wilcox was refreshingly open at CHSAA’s glossy media day prior to the fall season, going as far to say that overconfidence may have stunted his state title hopes the year before.
Memo to himself: Stay grounded — his silky play on the court would do the rest as he dispensed everybody on his path to gold.
This season, “I was focusing on more how I was playing instead of what I wanted the score to be,” said Wilcox, the Class 4A No. 1 singles champ who was named BoCoPreps.com boys tennis player of the year for a second straight year. “It was less about results and more about how I was performing on the court.”
Wilcox took a renewed focus and translated it into a junior campaign so dominant that his coach, Miikka Keronen, said he not only thought Wilcox could have won the title in either of the state’s classifications in the fall — he predicted that his star would win another title in 2020.
“He just got a ton better this year and he was really good last year, too,” Keronen said. “And he’s only going to get better. I’m excited for next year.”
A season after bowing out in the state semifinals — saying at a media gathering at Broncos headquarters that he “choked” and started thinking, “Man this isn’t going to be as easy as I thought it would be” — Wilcox ended up only dropping two sets this fall.
One came against Fairview’s Luke Silverman, who he said he beat twice during the year.
The other served as the opening to his state finals match against Cheyenne Mountain’s Joey Geisz. Following a 6-2 set loss, he calmly won 12 of his next 16 games to reach the top of the podium.
“You can always play better,” Wilcox said. “But in the end, it’s your attitude after you go down that really counts.”
The junior said he tried to continually find ways to improve under all circumstances. His hunger to get better came after 6-0, 6-0 wins as it did after falling to Geisz in the opening set down in Pueblo.
A snapshot of it came after he clinched a spot in the finals. He’s still tough on himself after letting two games get away in the second set of his semifinal against Mullen’s Mac Caldwell.
He’d swept the previous five sets in the tournament.
“I felt like I had the ability to go the first three rounds without dropping a game,” Wilcox said. “But I feel like because I got a little tight and started thinking about it, I played worse.”
His self-critique fuels him going forward.
Wilcox said he still plans to play tennis around 25-30 hours a week during the high school offseason. When nice enough, he said he gets on a court. And when not, he works on his strength and flexibility while training in his basement.
“He’s always playing,” Keronen said. “He plays with his brother (Alan), who plays 4-doubles for us. He plays with anybody who wants to play. He plays with adults and plays in any tournament that is available.”
The end goal: “I’m just working to improve,” Wilcox said.