CHEYENNE – Brian Joelson entered fall practice with an extra pep in his step.
The Cheyenne Central senior is confident, for sure, but he’s also hungry for a better ending than each of the past two seasons provided.
Joelson has reached the state semifinals in No. 2 singles in consecutive seasons. But this fall has a different air to it. Joelson, who will slide into the No. 1 singles spot, is more determined and focused on capturing the state championship that has eluded him.
His thirst to get over the hump is never-ending.
“It’s tough taking second,” Joelson said. “I just want to come out and play my hardest, like I usually do. That’s what I’ve done the last two years, and I’m just going to leave it all out on the court.”
Two years ago, Joelson lost in three sets to Campbell County’s Garrett Seamans. Last fall, he was ousted by Cheyenne South’s Brendan Lock in two sets.
“I really wanted to win both of them,” Joelson said. “But the players I was playing with, they were playing really fantastic, and my hat’s off to them to beating me and going on to playing in the finals.”
Joelson hopes this season won’t end in frustration. His passion, devotion and work ethic will be the driving forces for change, and second-year Central coach Karen Mack-Clark knows firsthand the type of competitor Joelson is.
“He’s a hard worker, and he has a really good attitude,” said Mack-Clark. “Like, right now, with the (junior varsity) and some of the younger kids looking up to (him), it’s nice to be able to have them see that and want to aspire to get to that competitive level.”
“He's always had that competitive edge since I (have been) here. He wants to win state this year. He knows what his competition is out there, and I think that he’s prepared this whole summer and offseason. He’s prepared to go into it with a very strong senior year.”
Joelson had a rocky start to last season. His skills never wavered as much as his mental approach during matches. More often than not, he would flash a style of play resembling a tense and serious player, instead of being loose and accepting of the results for each point or set.
Midway through the season, Joelson decided to make a change. He relaxed and vowed to have more fun.
“Win or lose, he enjoyed it,” Mack-Clark said. “He always talked to his opponent. I think that’s who Brian is – he enjoys playing tennis. He can be really funny, or he can be really pretty serious. He was very serious at the beginning of (last) year, and he kind of changed to more of a jovial, fun opponent.”
Results followed, and Joelson made it to the state semifinals.
As he walked onto the Central tennis courts for the first week of practice Thursday morning, Joelson wants to build off last season’s second-half performance.
It’s the mentality he’s bringing to the courts every day.
“I believe I can beat anyone in the state, just depending on how I am (playing) at that time, and I know there’s multiple players in the state who can beat me,” he said. “It’s going to be a real competitive (No.) 1 singles this year, and I think I do have a good chance, but you never know what’s going to happen.”
The most notable change in Joelson’s play has nothing to do with his serve, forehand or backhand, but a sense of self-confidence within himself and his overall play.
“If (I) tighten up, I just miss,” he said. “I was like, ‘I’m going to come out, play my game, hit my shots,’ and I think it changed my game around because I wasn’t afraid to miss. It really made my game a lot better because I left it all on the court. I was like, ‘I’m either the better player, or he is.’ And that’s just the way it was.”
Along with his newfound mental approach, Joelson spent considerable time working on his conditioning during the offseason. He ran for about an hour every other day and did wind sprints to help better his lateral movement and overall endurance.
“Last year, I slacked on it,” he said. “Physically, I think I’m probably one of the best fit players in the state, and I think if I know the match lasts two or three hours, I’m probably going to take it. Or, if I do lose, I’m going to make sure that they’re sore the next day.”
New mindset and approach aside, Joelson will have his work cut out for him if he wants to win the state title. One player stands between him and hoisting a state title: Lock.
The South junior is the reigning No. 1 singles state champion and is the favorite to repeat.
“(He) doesn’t have very many weaknesses, so we’re just going to come up with some strategies to try and beat Brendan,” Mack-Clark said.
What, exactly, will it take to push Joelson over the top and dethrone the defending state champ?
“I’ve got to play out of my mind. If I can play the way I play, I think I have a great shot at playing (for a state championship),” Joelson said. “Lock … he’s playing beautiful. I want a little payback from him taking me out in the semifinals last year. I just hope to meet him in the finals this year, and if I win, I win, and if I lose, I lose. But … just playing with all I have, because this is my final year, I’ve got nothing to lose.
“He’s a fantastic (player), he doesn’t give up, and if I get careless and try to hit bigger than him, I’ll lose. I’m just going to make sure our match is long and painful for him.
If he wins, my hat’s off to him. But I’m going to make sure he earns it.”
Tyler Poslosky is a reporter for WyoSports. He can be reached at 307-633-3123 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @TylerPoslosky.