By Mike DeFabo
Times West Virginian
Coming into the Big 10 tournament, the area tennis coaches all preached the same thing: improvement.
On Friday no player exemplified that more than Fairmont Senior’s Blake Hoke.
Using a strong serve and consistent ground strokes, the freshman showed talent beyond his years as he took down upperclassman after upperclassman. But ultimately, he fell just short, losing in the title match.
“Of course I’m disappointed that I couldn’t win that last one,” he said. “But I’m very happy to have come this far, especially as a freshman having three years to improve.”
On his path to second place, he met a familiar foe where he most proved his improvement. Earlier this season he lost to Elkins’ Ryan Henson, the top-ranked player in his bracket. But he got some redemption in the quarterfinals.
He went ahead and, when Henson began to show weakness, pounced on the way to an 8-4 victory.
“I started getting up in that match,” Hoke said. “As soon as I started getting up, I used that to keep going and finish it out.”
He rode the momentum to an early 1-0 lead in the finals. It appeared that the streak would continue all the way to a Big 10 title.
But then Hoke got away form his game a bit and committed several unforced errors. It caused him to drop the next five games before falling, 8-2, to Buckhannon-Upshur’s Ethan Hull.
While Hoke said he would have liked to close out the tournament on top, his coach, Mark Giorcelli, said he can still take away a lot from playing in a championship match with all eyes on him.
“I think it’s a good learning experience for him,” the coach said. “That’s a big test, a big weight on his shoulders as a freshman.
“He’s the kind of kid that’s so advanced that he’ll educate himself on this real quick.”
Several others from Marion County also turned in strong performances. Fairmont Senior’s No. 1 Logan Orton and No. 4 Avery Towns advanced to the semifinals, as did East Fairmont’s No. 2 Cara Laswell and No. 4 Zack Henline.
East Fairmont coach Rodney Anselene was especially pleased with Laswell.
“She really stepped up today. It was like a whole different person out there today,” he said. “She proved she can rally with anyone.
“She was hungry today, but she came up a little short. That desire is there.”
For Fairmont Senior, meanwhile, Giorcelli was most impressed with Towns’ performance. Though she lost in the semifinals, she put up a good fight before falling, 8-5, to the eventual champion Kayla Gaines from Elkins.
“Avery showed me something that was unbelievable,” he said. “She kept up with a senior that was a very fundamentally sound player. I've not seen her rise like that. She's going to force to reckon with.”
Elkins is well in front in the team standing after taking home numerous singles titles. The county teams will look to make up ground today when the tournament continues with doubles beginning at 8 a.m.
Email Mike DeFabo at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @MikeDeFaboTWV.