Boys tennis: Luo earns medal at state

WATERLOO — Ruimin Luo had a goal to reach the state tennis tournament before the season even began.

"He got in my car to go to that first practice, he introduced himself and told me he wanted to play singles at districts so he could qualify for state," Fairfield head tennis coach Micheal Holt recalled.

Luo achieved that goal without dropping a match, advancing all the way to the Class 1A boys state tennis tournament for the first time while lead the Trojans to an unbeaten regular-season record in duals as well as the Southeast Conference championship. The Fairfield Maharishi junior picked up three more wins in his first trip to state, securing a medal with a sixth-place finish in the 1A state singles tournament including a 6-2, 6-0 win on Wednesday over Pella junior Ben Van Gorp that clinched two more matches and a top-eight finish.

Luo battled through his final two matches on Thursday, jumping out to 4-1 leads in each of his first three sets. After holding off Kuemper Catholic junior Mason Reicks to win a pair of 6-3 sets in the consolation semifinals, Luo dropped a tightly-contested battle in the consolation finals against Sergeant Bluff-Luton sophomore Tyler Grote falling 7-5 and 6-4 in his final match of his junior season.

"There is a lot I can do for improvement. I knew coming up here the state tournament was going to be a lot harder, but I thought I was prepared for it," Luo said. "I didn't put myself in the most ideal position, but I put it all out there. I tried my best in every point. I could have done a little better in that match on some of those rallies, but I have no regrets.

"I already have some high expectations for next season. I'm going to improve and come back even stronger."

Luo isn't alone in making strides within his own team. Many of Luo's Fairfield teammates made the trip to the Byrnes Tennis Center on Wednesday to watch as Luo posted an opening 6-3, 6-3 win over Lewis Central senior Christian Jensen in the first round of the state tournament before falling 6-2 and 6-1 to top-seeded Pella senior Jack Briggs.

Luo secured his state medal by sweeping Van Gorp in his third match on Wednesday. After watching their teammate perform and win against the best tennis players in the state, several Fairfield players seemed inspired to bring their games to a higher level next season.

"There were guys in the van heading back home on Wednesday that were talking about the things they were going to work on during the offseason," Holt said. "I know Ruimin and Han (Wang), who are heading back home to China for the summer, were telling the rest of the guys they need keep going. They need to keep working so we can be even better next season.

"The pieces of the puzzle are starting to come together for us. The momentum seems to be going in the right direction for us. I've also seen it go the other way. I've seen times where guys will lose a match, report their scores and do it with a smile. This year was way different. Instead of worrying about where the snacks were, it bugged guys to lose a match. They were determined to learn and get better from it."

Luo was able to build leads in seven of his 10 sets played at state, but showed allowed those leads to be trimmed down in both of his consolation matches on Thursday. Reicks was able to cut both 4-1 deficits against Luo down to 4-3 before Luo secured the key breaks and service holds to put the match away.

Grote, however, would not let Luo get away. The 6-7 sophomore from Sergeant Bluff-Luton used his power to put away key points, including a back-and-forth rally at deuce in the 12th game of the opening set before holding his serve at 4-4 and opening a 40-15 lead on Luo's serve setting up three match points.

Luo was able to battle his way back to deuce, saving two match points, before a double fault clinched the fifth-place win for Grote.

"Mostly, mentally, I have to be very tough and not get too much influenced by the score," Luo said. "When I'm leading, I need to play better. I need to have my foot on the gas when I'm leading. I should still be playing hard for every single point. That kind of cost me on the last match."

Despite the loss, Luo was greeted by several state qualifiers following the match, including many players from the same Cedar Rapids Xavier squad that Fairfield battled in both district and substate tournament play. The admiration of his top player did not go unnoticed by Holt.

"The overwhelming thing is how many coaches and players came up to me and told me what a great guy that Ruimin is," Holt said. "His demeanor is so level no matter who he's playing. There's a lot of respect there. He's going to be a great person longer than he'll be a great tennis player. Wins are great, but if you can get wins and that type of respect, that's what you hope for as a head coach."