A few months ago, Draden Hoover couldn’t even lift his arm above his head.
The Overland High School freshman held it aloft in triumph on Oct. 2, however, after he became the youngest regional tennis champions in school history.
The shoulder injury that kept Hoover out of the lineup for most of the season is an afterthought now after he qualified for the Class 5A state tournament Oct. 10-12 at the Gates Tennis Center.
“It’s amazing being a freshman and winning my region,” Hoover said after his 6-4, 6-3 victory over Boulder’s Jackson Hawk in the 5A Region 7 No. 1 singles championship match at Colorado Athletic Club Monaco.
“I came into the season halfway because I fractured my shoulder, so I’ve spent a lot of time on rehab and trying to focus on my strokes and my serve,” he added. “It’s paid off.”
Becoming Overland’s first state qualifier since Roman Khmelev in 2006 didn’t look like a certainty a few months earlier, when Hoover suffered his shoulder injury in a summer section tournament.
Hoover said his bone popped out during a serve, then popped right back in, causing him enough pain that he had to default the tournament.
It also put him on the shelf for the start of his freshman year at Overland.
Not being able to play really hurt him internally, but so did a rehab regiment Hoover called “insane.” Tons of band stretches and range of motion work helped him on the path to recovery, but he still had to watch once the Trailblazers took the courts to practice and play in August.
“I was just so antsy, especially watching the team practice,” he recalled. “I just wanted to get on the court, pick up balls or do anything I could.”
Finally able to join Overland’s lineup in the last two weeks of the regular season, he won all but one match — a loss to Arapahoe senior Nicholas Farmen, who is also a state qualifier — and gave a boost to the team.
With Hoover in the lineup, coach Arlandus Lowe’s young team beat Grandview in a Centennial League dual match and raised its level of play across the board.
So far, the freshman has fared better than veteran coaches Lowe and Woodie Smith could have expected.
They knew about his Overland roots — his mother attended the school, as did an uncle who played for Lowe on the boys basketball team — and paid attention to what he did in middle school, but didn’t know exactly how he’d fare at the high school level.
“We watched Draden for a long time just knowing he was around, but we didn’t know how he was going to develop,” Lowe said. “We’re pleased with how he has developed so far. He does a nice job of coming up with the correct shot at the correct time. …He’s just young and we have to make sure he understands that he can’t let his emotions overtake him at certain times.”
Hoover believes he’s done a good job of keeping himself on an even keel during matches so far. He definitely doesn’t want to give opponents a foothold to beating him.
“I need to keep calm and focus, that’s what’s going to give me the best chance of winning the match,” he said. “Kids can capitalize on opportunities when you’re not playing every point with your best effort.”
Hoover’s goal at state is to earn a place in the top four, which is always a difficult task in the No. 1 singles bracket.
Hoover won’t be the only Aurora freshman at the state tournament, as Cherokee Trail’s Dylan Zumar joins him at No. 1 singles and Regis Jesuit’s Erich Nuss made it at No. 3 singles.
Zumar was also pleased to make the state tournament, especially because his older brother, Corey, didn’t get to experience that when he played No. 1 singles for the Cougars.
Zumar is part of a Cherokee Trail team that never had a boys player make the state tournament, but will take four positions in all: Zumar, plus the doubles teams of Ryan Richardson and Vik Sheverda (No. 1), Colin Richardson and Cody Luhmann (No. 2) and Cameron Bergan and David Lai (No. 3).
While Hoover and coach Liz Siegel’s Cherokee Trail contingent are all new to the state tournament, Regis Jesuit has yet another strong group expected to finish high in the standings.
Nuss and sophomore Chanon Penvari (No. 2), along with doubles teams Nate Root and Timmy D’Costa (No. 1), Joey Robertson and Tommy Koszowski (No. 2), Steven Bummer and Truett Davis (No. 3) and Alec Jotte and Luca Abbott (No. 4).
“Our goal coming into the season was top four and I’m sticking to my guns on that,” Regis Jesuit coach Laura Jones said.
AURORA CLASS 5A BOYS STATE TENNIS FIRST ROUND MATCHES
Oct. 10 at Gates Tennis Center
No. 1 singles: DYLAN ZUMAR , fr. (Cherokee Trail) vs. Brian Yoshida, sr. (Lakewood); DRADEN HOOVER, fr. (OVERLAND) vs. Eric Kwiatkowski, sr. (Chaparral)
No. 2 singles: CHANON PENVARI, soph. (REGIS JESUIT) vs. Maxwell Weiner, jr. (Fossil Ridge)
No. 3 singles: ERICH NUSS, fr. (REGIS JESUIT) vs. Aaron Gossage, jr. (Grand Junction)
No. 1 doubles: Brock Dehaven, sr. and Max Petrak, soph. (Fairview) vs. RYAN RICHARDSON, sr. and VIK SHEVERDA, jr. (CHEROKEE TRAIL); NATE ROOT, sr. and TIMMY D’COSTA, sr. (REGIS JESUIT) vs. Tyler Leasure, sr. and AJ Bohuslavsky, sr. (Liberty)
No. 2 doubles: JOEY ROBERTSON, jr. and TOMMY KOSZOWSKI, soph. (REGIS JESUIT) vs. CODY LUHMANN, sr. and COLIN RICHARDSON, soph. (CHEROKEE TRAIL)
No. 3 doubles: Austin Cole, jr. and Sam Karlson, soph. (Legacy) vs. STEVEN BUMMER, soph. and TRUETT DAVIS, jr. (REGIS JESUIT); Teller Hoskins, jr. and Ben Schlechting, sr. (Cherry Creek) vs. CAMERON BURGAN, soph. and DAVID LAI, soph. (CHEROKEE TRAIL)
No. 4 Doubles: Sam Muetterties, jr. and Robert Moore, sr. (Arapahoe) vs. ALEC JOTTE, jr. and LUCA ABBOTT, fr. (REGIS JESUIT)