WATERLOO — There’s a new king of Creston tennis, and he did it the hard way.
Playing unseeded as a district runner-up, facing a district champion in his opening match, Creston/O-M senior Garret Taylor surpassed all other Panthers on record in placing fifth in Class 1A singles last weekend.
Taylor went 4-1 in the state tournament held at Byrne’s Park Tennis Center, losing only in the quarterfinals to eventual third-place finisher Cam Long of Dubuque Wahlert.
Research conducted over the weekend with former Creston tennis coaches and players led to the conclusion Taylor is the first singles medalist since eighth-place John Brentnall in the one-class meet in 1989, and the program’s highest finisher ever.
Brentnall was the No. 1 player on the 1989 Panther squad that placed third in the one-class team tournament as well.
Taylor is the first singles qualifier for state tennis since Tony Hartman in 2006.
“It’s definitely a great accomplishment and I’m very proud of it, to say I’m one of the top all-time in Creston,” Taylor said Sunday.
“What an amazing run by Garret this weekend,” Creston/O-M coach Kevin Cooper said. “Not too many kids can say they went 4-1 at the state tennis tournament and he has a lot to be proud of.”
In the match to play in the consolation finals for fifth place, Taylor avenged a regular-season loss to Red Oak four-time state qualifier Jordan Nelson, who entered state play as a district champ with a 13-1 record.
During the regular season, Taylor (18-6) had lost only to Nelson, Shenandoah foreign exchange student Phillip Meier and North Polk sophomore Nathan Greiner.
At the state tournament, Greiner and Meier both failed to advance to the second day of competition, while Taylor was becoming the winner of the consolation bracket.
Taylor was third in the Hawkeye 10 Conference singles competition, and yet fifth in the state. Steady improvement, ever since an injury-plagued freshman campaign, was his recipe for success.
“My freshman year I had a foot injury and only played in the last couple of duals, so really my first year was my sophomore year when I played No. 6 on singles,” Taylor said. “I took up a passion for it and an interest in it. I developed and became a better player over the years. Coach Cooper was always there for me to support me and help me work on my own.”
Taylor, son of Craig and Linda Taylor, played No. 3 singles last year behind the senior combination of Colby Taylor and Bryce McIlravy, who went to state in doubles. Taylor and Adam Bochart were contenders to go to state as a second doubles pair.
“Last year was a very positive environment, with a lot of talent to work with every day,” Taylor said.
On a rebuilding team this year, Taylor was the clear No. 1 and went 14-5 during the regular season, again showing gradual improvement.
“Garret has worked so hard in the past year,” Cooper said. “For him to be able to see these kind of results is a very special thing to be a part of. There is nobody who deserves it more than he does.”
Taylor breezed past district champion Jamison Roozeboom of Pella, 6-1, 6-3, to open the tournament. In the quarterfinals he lost in straight sets, 6-2, 6-1, to Dubuque Wahlert junior Cam Long. Taylor said it was a contrast in styles.
“The Dubuque kid had a very different playing style,” Taylor said. “He’s what we call a ‘pusher.’ He puts it in play, consistently, just trying to keep it in bounds. More of a defensive player. It changes up my pace, and I couldn’t quite get all of my strokes in.”
Taylor regrouped for an undefeated second day after securing a guarantee of a placing with his consolation match at the end of Friday’s play, 6-1, 6-0 over Bishop Heelan’s Dustin Dorhour.
He started Saturday’s action by topping Red Oak’s Nelson in a super tiebreaker, 10-5, after dropping the first set 6-4 and winning the second, 6-4. In the regular season, Nelson had swept him, 6-4, 6-2.
“That time I didn’t play my best game, and he’s a very good player,” Taylor explained. “I knew I had to use my strengths — ground strokes from the baseline. I felt like I had improved the last couple of weeks and I was ready this time.”
In the match for fifth place, Taylor took a 6-3, 6-3 victory over Kyle D’mello of Cedar Rapids Xavier.
“He was an aggressive player, too,” Taylor said. “We both got after it. I just put more shots in.”
To make that rise from No. 6 player on the team two years ago to fifth in the state is a great example for up and coming players in the program, Cooper said.
“Garret has set the standard for how his teammates can make it to the state tennis tournament,” Cooper said. “He has set a great example of how hard work can lead to great things. He has been a great leader for our team the past four years.”
Originally, Taylor planned on attending Iowa State University to major in engineering. In the past month, he’s garnered interest from collegiate tennis coaches and he’s willing to explore those options.
“I’ve been contacted by Morningside and Central College for tennis,” Taylor said. “They both have pre-engineering, so I could get the main science and math courses I’d need (for engineering major). I need to visit each of them. Then I’ll have a big decision to make.”
Boys State Tennis
Class 1A singles
First place — Sam Stickels, Fairfield Maharishi def. Alexander Punj, Fairfield, 6-2, 6-2.
Third place — Cam Long, Dubuque Wahlert, def. Sam Jones, Clear Lake, 6-4, 1-6, 1-0 (10).
Fifth place — Garret Taylor, Creston/O-M, def. Kyle D’mello, Cedar Rapids Xavier, 6-3, 6-3.
Seventh place — Jamison Roozeboom, Pella, def. Jordan Nelson, Red Oak, 1-6, 6-3, 1-0 (7).
Garret Taylor (Cr) def. Jamison Roozeboom (Pella), 6-1, 6-3; Cam Long (Dubuque Wahlert) def. Garret Taylor (Cr), 6-2, 6-1; Garret Taylor (Cr) def. Dustin Dorhour (Sioux City Bishop Heelan), 6-1, 6-0; Garret Taylor (Cr) def. Jordan Nelson (Red Oak), 4-6, 6-4, 1-0 (10-5 tiebreaker); Garret Taylor (Cr) def. Kyle D’mello (Cedar Rapids Xavier), 6-3, 6-3 for fifth place.