Rox Rogers hasn’t lost a high school tennis match in about two years, and if that streak continues at this week’s OSAA Class 5A state singles tournament he’ll make some Ashland history Saturday afternoon in Beaverton.
Days removed from a perfect run through the Midwestern League district tourney, during which he did not lose a single game, Rogers heads to state as the No. 2 seed in a 16-player field that also includes top-seeded Carter Quigley of Summit. The tournament begins with first round matches Thursday at the Portland Tennis Center and continues there with quarterfinal and semifinal matches Friday. The championship match will be played Saturday at Tualatin Hills Tennis Center in Beaverton.
Rogers, a junior, teamed up with Kai Weston last season to claim Ashland’s first boys doubles state championship since 1978, finishing the season with a perfect 21-0 record. This year, Rogers enters the state tournament with a 16-0 mark and is four wins shy of claiming what would be Ashland’s first boys singles title.
“I like going in thinking that everybody’s going to be great at this point — it’s state — and I just have to try my hardest to see how good I can do,” Rogers said.
Rogers isn’t Ashland’s only hope at state this week. The Grizzlies’ top doubles team of Owen DiRienzo and Nur Shelton is seeded No. 4 in the 5A boys doubles tournament and is also coming off a victory in the MWL district tourney.
Rogers’ first-round match is Thursday against unseeded Nicholas Hey, a sophomore from La Salle, with the winner slated to face either Ryan Abbott of Summit or Alle Banna of Churchill, both of whom are unranked freshmen. If Rogers keeps winning, his first opportunity to face a seeded player would be in the semifinals against No. 4 seed Peter Cerdans of Crescent Valley.
Quigley and No. 3-seeded Dante DeSimone of Sandy are on the side of the bracket opposite Rogers and wouldn’t meet him until the championship match.
Ashland coach Ari Zaslow said Rogers is peaking at just the right time.
“He’s playing really well,” Zaslow said, “so if he keeps playing like he’s playing he should beat most of those guys, no problem.
“He’s playing some of the best tennis I’ve seen. He’s really striking the ball well. He’s got a big game so he can hit hard and go for winners, but he also moves really well, too, so he can also grind and stay in points as well.”
Quigley beat Rogers, 6-3, 6-1, in a match played during a tournament hosted by Summit on April 14-15, but, according Zaslow, Quigley was later ruled ineligible and Rogers awarded the victory by default.
Rogers, who stands 6-foot-4, overpowers most of his opponents with a huge serve that’s been clocked at 116 mph and heavy groundstrokes. He’s also improved as the season’s gone on and has worked hard to make that happen, even traveling to Las Vegas for a USTA tournament only two weeks ago (he won one match there).
If Rogers advances to the final, he expects to face Quigley, whom he describes as a player who “hits the ball as hard as he can on every single point, and if they go in, you lose.” Their first and only meeting in April at least provided Rogers with a plan of attack, should the two meet again.
“He just outplayed me that time,” Rogers said. “In my opinion I just have to keep him more off-balance in the future because whenever I give him an easier ball or a ball in the same spot two times in a row, he’ll either clock it for a winner or put me on the defensive to where I can’t really do anything but lose the point.
“I’m going to have to play very good that day and just going to have to hope that he’s slightly off so I can try to pull off something. If I can’t win I’m going to try and make it close, but either way I feel like it would be a fun and interesting match.”
DiRienzo and Shelton are on the same side of the doubles bracket as top-seeded Garen Gasparovic and Peter Rutherford of Summit, which remarkably advanced to state all four of its doubles teams and two singles players. DiRienzo and Shelton open state against Levi Samano and Trever Karrsseboom, an unranked team from Woodburn.
Zaslow said DiRienzo and Shelton nearly knocked off the No. 2-seeded team — Andy Jones and Dylan Warren of Summit — in Bend last month and easily could have landed the No. 3 seed, but is hopeful they’ll put together a deep run and possibly put the Grizzlies in position to bring home another second-place team finish (Summit will be almost impossible to beat in the team race).
“Owen and Nur, they’re good,” Zaslow said. “They’re super athletic and they’re just starting to really click and play well together — moving in and out, learning how to transition from offense to defense. Doubles is a lot of little intricate movements and the more they play together the better they’re communicating.”
Joe Zavala is a reporter for the Ashland Daily Tidings. Reach him at 541-821-0829 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Joe_Zavala99.