After an 11-0 regular season and a first-round victory, Estrella Foothills’ boys tennis team is readying for the state tournament’s quarterfinals on Wednesday, May 5, as the No. 2 seed in its division. Third-year coach Devin Gable credits the team’s depth for its success.
“We just have such a great group of kids, and we have a really strong ‘No. 1’ that’s led the team,” she said. “He has to challenge all those really tough players at the top, and so we start strong at the top and, man, we’re just solid all the way through.”
That “No. 1” she is referring to is sophomore Noah Killeen, who is the No. 8-ranked singles player in the state’s Division II. Heading into the tournament 12-0 in singles matches this year, he won his first two playoff matches but lost in the quarterfinals.
Killeen knew that if he reached the state quarterfinals, he’d likely face Jared Perry from Catalina Foothills, the top-ranked player in the division. That’s exactly what happened.
“The biggest challenge is going to be the competitors. I know that I’m playing the No. 1 kid in the quarterfinals if I make it that far, and that kid is No. 50 in the nation,” Killeen said. “I understand that he’s going to be a huge challenge toward advancing further from that round, so I’m just anticipating a hard competition that I haven’t been seeing so far.”
Killeen is one of the captains of the team, along with junior Connor Gable, Devin’s son. Connor and his freshman brother, Caden, are 8-1 as a doubles pair this year.
“He’s my brother, so we already kind of had a bond,” Connor said. “I guess that makes us a little better of a doubles team. Playing with your sibling is hard, but it’s rewarding because, not only do you become better at tennis with them, you become more of their friend.”
As their mother, Devin said she’s excited to see the brothers compete in the state tournament together, even if they don’t see eye to eye on everything.
“It’s so awesome,” Devin said. “It’s just a really cool experience to get to have them go into state together. It’s not always super easy for them to play together, being siblings, but they’ve done a pretty good job, their record’s fantastic, and I just hope they have a lot of fun together getting to go into state.”
Devin said it can be challenging to balance coaching her sons and the rest of the team. Coaching an individual sport like tennis, however, takes some of the pressure off.
“One thing I really love about tennis is that each boy earns their spot through challenging each other for their spot on the ladder, so it’s not like I have to pick who’s going to play where,” Devin said.
“They determine that for themselves, so that makes it a little easier. It doesn’t really seem to be too much of a complication to have two of my own kids on the team.”
Devin was raised in a family of tennis players, so it’s no surprise that her kids have embraced the sport. For Connor, it’s the self-reliance that tennis provides that he appreciates.
“I had tried a lot of sports, like soccer, basketball and baseball, like kids normally do when they’re growing up, but I really enjoy tennis,” Connor said. “It’s a team sport, but also, you have a lot of responsibility, and a lot of it relies on you; and in singles, it’s all on you.
“I like that pressure, I guess, and I like that responsibility. I can’t blame anyone for anything, and if I do anything wrong, it’s my fault.”
While team success motivates Killeen, that spotless 12-0 singles record meant a lot to him.
“The biggest thing that keeps me motivated throughout my tennis season is probably my undefeated record,” Killeen said. “I want to keep that undefeated, so I know that I just had to play hard in every single match in order to keep that.”
Don’t mistake his confidence for arrogance, though. Despite his quarterfinal loss, which came against the toughest player in the tournament, he put in the work to earn that perfect record.
“I think it was the discipline that went in towards my season that’s made me so successful,” Killeen said. “I think I’ve put in a lot of hard work this past year towards my tennis career, and I’m starting to realize that I really want to win. I guess I’m starting to really love the sport.”
Confidence is a good thing, but this tournament won’t get any easier, and they know it.
“This tournament, this state, I think we’re going to face people who are harder than we’ve really played a lot before this season,” Connor said.
“So, it’s going to be a whole new level of challenge. I think the hardest part for us, personally, is going to be just getting the ball rolling and getting a couple points in a row or breaking their streak if they get one.”
Killeen may only be a sophomore, but his future is something he’s thought about a lot. Despite his tennis prowess, he said he has bigger career goals.
“I would want to continue my tennis career, but that’s not what I’m going to college for,” Killeen said. “I’m going to college for my academic career, because that means a lot to me as well. I’m aiming for the Ivy Leagues for colleges. If I’m able to play tennis there, that’d be great.
“I’ve always been interested in politics. I would always chime in on certain conversations on politics. I’d really love helping my community by picking or selecting the right politicians. I might as well become that right politician whenever I’m older.”