The 2018 Class 4A state boys tennis tournament was always going to be a tough draw when it came to the No. 1 singles bracket.
Nick Lorenz of Discovery Canyon was a senior and looking to find that elusive state title. He ended up running into a buzzsaw in Colorado Academy's Richter Jordaan. But those two were far from the only stars on the court that weekend.
Niwot junior Neil Wilcox looked strong in the first two rounds of the tournament first beating Alameda senior Kenny Orive 6-2, 6-1 and then dispatching Cheyenne Mountain junior Joey Geisz 6-1, 2-6, 6-3.
Then he ran into Jordaan, the eventual No. 1 singles champion. Jordaan won the semifinal match 6-1, 6-2 and sent Wilcox to the consolation bracket. Then a sophomore, Wilcox regained his composure and won his next two matches in straight sets to take third place.
Heading into this year, it isn't the wins that helped him learn last year, but rather his loss to Jordaan. With two more chances to go for gold, it was a reminder that at the state tournament everyone is playing at a high level.
"Last year I went in very confident and felt like I had a chance," Wilcox said. "I lost because I was overconfident."
Sitting at the fall sports media day hosted by the Denver Broncos, Wilcox looked every bit the humbled and controlled athlete that he needs to be to survive a grueling tennis season. He maintains that staying humble will help him generate the results he wants and that has been clear early this season.
In the Cougars' season-opening dual against Peak to Peak, Wilcox came away with a decisive 6-0, 6-0 victory. He followed that with a 6-2, 6-2 win over Thompson Valley.
Niwot is 2-0 as a team to start the year with duals against Centaurus and Dawson on the horizon. A big key for Wilcox is that he's trying to focus solely on the task in front of him rather than what his solid play can do for him later in the year.
"This year I have to make sure I just go in and play my game and make sure I don't spend too much time thinking about it," he said.
With both Lorenz and Jordaan graduated, Wilcox can enter the 2019 state tournament as the most successful returning player. Geisz is back for the Indians and the field will also consist of talented underclassmen such as Steamboat Springs sophomore Andy Schuiling.
The 2019 season is starting off on a high note for Wilcox as he stands 2-0 after joining several of the state's top athletes at the UC Health Center at Dove Valley in early August.
"This is kind of crazy for me," he said sitting at the podium. "I've never done anything like this before."
If he plays to to his potential and maintains his focus throughout this season, he'll be getting similar media attention. And as just a junior, he has plenty of time to get used to it.