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PREP TENNIS: Mental game makes West's Shoemake tougher

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BENTONVILLE -- Hayden Shoemake remembered his history when he needed it the most, and he was determined not to repeat it.

When the Bentonville West junior fell behind in his 6A-West Conference semifinal match against Fayetteville's Nicholas Simpson, his mind went back to a year ago, when he was eliminated in the same round.

At A Glance

CLASS 6A STATE TENNIS TOURNAMENT

WHEN Today-Tuesday

WHERE Rebsamen Tennis Center, Little Rock

Top Seeds

Boys singles — Central: Andrew Maxson, LR Central. West: Hayden Shoemake, Bentonville West.

Boys doubles — Central: Henry Nolan and Steven Weeks, LR Catholic. West: Connor Clardy and Hayden Swope, Springdale Har-Ber.

Girls singles — Central: Kate Files, FS Northside. West: Lucia Canigova, Bentonville High.

Girls doubles — Central: Taylor Lemieux and Ashleigh Darnell, Conway. West: Grace Coleman and Yasmine Humbert, Fayetteville.

Other state tournament locations

CLASS 5A Hot Springs Country Club

CLASS 4A Burns Park, North Little Rock

CLASS 3A Conway Tennis Center

CLASS 2A Memorial Park, Bentonville

The brief moment down memory lane served Shoemake well. He not only bounced back to defeat Simpson, but he went on to claim the boys singles title with a three-set victory over Fayetteville's Jake Sweeney. That allowed him to take the league's top seed into the Class 6A state tennis tournament, which begins today in Little Rock.

"I was just nervous about the match because I lost in the semifinals last year, and I was seeded ahead of him," Shoemake said. "I knew how much the crowd was going to be into the match playing Fayetteville. It always is.

"I was down 4-5 in the first set, then I came back and broke him. I went on to go ahead 6-5 and won the tiebreaker, then defeated him 6-1 in the second set."

Shoemake has shown he had the talent of being a boys singles championship ever since he emerged on the high school scene the same year as West did. As a freshman, he reached the 7A-West tournament final and had a 4-1 lead before he fell short, then suffered his semifinal loss last year.

The difference between this year and the previous years was not how much Shoemake has grown or become stronger physically, but how he handled the mental approach to matches -- particularly those against quality opponents.

"To say that he is grown is an understatement," West coach Hunter Alexander said. "He was good when we started from day one. The growth he has had from being good to the level he is competing at now is just crazy. He's really grown in the mental aspect of his game, and he's become a lot tougher mentally in these big-time matches.

"It's easy for anyone in his caliber to go out, play those lower rounds of a tournament and be relaxed. But in those semifinal and final matches against those elite players, where he would tighten up and become more tenative, he's now fighting through that mentally. That makes him hard to beat."

Alexander said he gets together with Shoemake before each match and develops a game plan, no matter who the opponent might be. It's a strategy that has worked well this season as Shoemake will take a 14-0 record into today's state tournament, where he will await the winner of a first-round match between Jake Maxson of Little Rock Central and T.J. Saniseng of Van Buren.

A win would put Shoemake into Tuesday's semifinal round, but he wants to go at least one step further and reach the championship match.

"My goal this year is to qualify for the overall state tournament," Shoemake said. "I've never qualified for overalls, and in order to qualify for overalls I have to reach the final. I want to do that so I can play one more week.

"I've actually played a ton of matches on those courts because a lot of junior tournaments are there. I love playing there and love the courts. They're fast, and they fit my game."

Preps Sports on 10/08/2018

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