AJ Woodman challenged himself this season. After all, to be the best, you have to play the best.
The CBC junior was one half of the 2017 Class 2 state doubles tennis champions with Clayton Maack when they were sophomores. But Woodman wanted to try and test himself in singles play.
“I decided about three-fourths through the season to play singles in the postseason,” Woodman said. “It was tough because I knew we would have a good chance to win [state doubles] again but I wanted to play the top kids from the past two years in the singles draw.”
He reached state in Class 2 singles. Woodman finished third in the state with a 23-2 record. His losses were to Parkway South’s Carson Haskins, who won state, and Staley’s Carson Gates, who wound up second at state.
“I had a solid spring. I won every match but two and they placed first and second at state,” Woodman said. “I played well and felt I helped support the team throughout the season.”
Coach Pete Demos backed Woodman’s decision to play singles in the postseason.
“Coach was very supportive of my decision throughout the year and was always there to help,” Woodman said. “I also consulted with my family and personal coach.”
Demos said Woodman wanted the opportunity to see how he would fare.
“He decided that he had already won doubles last year and wanted a new challenge,” Demos said. “I let my top players choose what they want to play.”
Woodman has been the No. 1 singles player in all three with the Cadets.
“Easily, our No. 1,” Demos said. “AJ is truly an inspiring player. Many times after official practice is concluded, he invites some of his USTA [United States Tennis Association)] buddies to continue drilling and hitting.”
Woodman began his postseason run by winning the District 4 title with a 6-3, 6-0 win over De Smet Jesuit’s Matthew Dubuque.
“I played well,” Woodman said. “He came out strong and was making a lot of shots so I had to adjust in order to win.”
It was a solid effort, Demos said.
“At a 3 and 0, the final score speaks for his performance,” Demos said.
In the Sectional 2 match, Woodman rolled over Justin Weaver, of Summit, 6-0, 6-1.
“I played very well in this match,” Woodman said. “I made a lot of first serves and made very few errors.”
His serve is outstanding, Demos said.
“People forget that AJ has one of the best second serves in Missouri and his overall play is truly remarkable,” Demos said.
That win earned him a berth in the state singles competition. Woodman liked what he saw when he viewed the bracket.
“I thought the draw looked good,” Woodman said. “It was similar to what I had thought before it came out but there were some good kids in my section of the bracket. I knew I would have to play well.”
In his first state match, Woodman beat Glendale’s Finn Wartick 6-3, 6-1. It was a good win for him.
“He came out and had a really good serve,” Woodman said. “It took me a little bit to get in a rhythm and adjust to his game and win in the end.”
The victory in the match show how Woodman adapted to win, Demos said.
“It was a tough match with many games going to deuce,” Demos said. “Again, AJ’s net play proved to be a big difference.”
In his quarterfinal match, Woodman played Kavin Anand, of Rock Bridge. Woodman won 6-1, 6-1.
“I played well and with a lot of confidence,” Woodman said. “I had a lot of aces, chased down a lot of defensive balls to keep making him play and reduced my errors.”
Woodman’s march to the final match was halted in the semifinals. He lost to Staley senior Carson Gates 6-3, 6-3.
Woodman credited Gates with a good match.
“Gates is very good. There is a reason he is going to Michigan State and placed second three years in a row,” Woodman said. “He makes a lot of balls and has really good passing shots. I could have played better, made more serves and volleys and could have been more patient but I played aggressive and made him come up with big shots.”
At state, the semifinals are played in the morning and the final two matches are held in the afternoon. There’s not much time in between.
“I was bummed because I wanted to win and get a chance to play Haskins in the finals but I had to move on quickly,” Woodman said.
“Carson is a fine player with a truly great consistent attitude and a few-error-style of play,” Demos said. “AJ is an even tempered player and, while disappointed in his loss, he came back to totally dominant his next match for third place.”
Woodman defeated Joplin’s Garret Lewis 6-2, 6-3 in third-place match. He was happy with his performance.
“I played very well,” Woodman said. “My service games were crucial because I won them fast by making many first serves and putting away points at the net.”
Demos said Lewis was a good player.
“Garret was undefeated until he met [Woodman],” Demos said. “He simply could not defend against AJ’s aggressive net play and power.”
Woodman acknowledged it was difficult to get up for this match. However, he wanted to finish strong.
“It was tough because I thought I could have made it to the finals,” Woodman said. “But I knew had to bounce back.”
Woodman accepted his third-place consolation prize with grace.
“Although my goal was first place, I was very happy with third because I went 3-1 and everyone I played ended up on the podium at state,” Woodman said.
Demos said while “AJ was disappointed” with his third-place showing he can now look ahead.
“He’s anxious to return next season and he will be one of the favorites,” Demos said.
“I’m very glad because I like CBC tennis and the team side of tennis,” Woodman said. “I am ready to go back to state next year and go for the gold.”
Woodman and Demos both believe he has much “upside” in his game. He can be better next year.
“I have a lot of upside with my all-court game and love to play at the net,” Woodman said. “I can keep getting better by playing with great players and working hard in the gym.”
“AJ is still growing and should be a little taller and bigger for next season,” Demos said. “He works so hard at his game that I really believe he will win state next year.”
Naturally, Demos is happy to have Woodman back for one more year.
“Of course, and not just because of his great play, but because of his team leadership that he expresses on a daily basis,” Demos said.
Woodman has decided on where he will go to college and play.
“I have talked to many colleges for about a year and I am verbally committed to play tennis at the United State Military Academy at West Point,” Woodman said. “I am looking forward to that.”