Jesuit senior Reif Larsen, a 6A quarterfinalist last year, is building toward a run at the state singles title this season.
Jesuit senior Reif Larsen, a 6A quarterfinalist last year, is building toward a run at the state singles title this season.

Down 4-1 in the third set, Jesuit senior Reif Larsen was on the ropes in the No. 1 singles final of the Oregon High School Team Tennis Championships on Saturday at Tualatin Hills Tennis Center.

But the top-seeded Larsen didn't blink, gradually turning the momentum and emerging with a 5-7, 6-4, 6-4 win over Lincoln sophomore Tiger Semler, the No. 2 seed.

“I was pretty gassed,” Larsen said. “I didn't really focus on the score. I was like, 'All right, let's get this game.' Then one, two, three games built on each other, and my confidence slowly rose. Before I knew it, I was up.”

Larsen's poise under pressure came as little surprise to Jesuit coach Jeff Wood.

“Reif has one of the best recovery modes I've seen,” Wood said. “If he plays a bad point, or has something that doesn't go his way, he just gets back to business. It's something you really can't coach. I can tell that he enjoys being pressed. He welcomes and thrives with the adversity. It's a gift that he has.”

Larsen's singles title helped propel Jesuit to first place in the eight-team tournament, which included six teams that finished in the top eight of the 6A tournament last year. The Crusaders scored 72 points to beat reigning state champion West Linn (46), Lincoln (43.5) and Sunset (33.5).

Larsen, a 6A quarterfinalist last year, defeated Sheldon sophomore Andy Brown 6-0, 6-0 and fourth-seeded Central Catholic senior Pace Crimin 6-1, 6-2 to advance to the final in No. 1 singles. Semler earned his finals berth by beating Lakeridge junior Cooper Wyngarden 6-0, 6-3 and third-seeded West Linn senior Grant Hawkins 6-1, 6-2.

Larsen, runner-up in the tournament last year, was able to overcome Semler before a spirited crowd.

“That was one of the best high school matches I've ever seen,” Wood said. “It was a lot of fun. Those guys really put on a great show for everybody. The sportsmanship on both sides of the net was amazing.”

Larsen drew energy from the crowd.

“The Lincoln side was cheering a lot, which gave me motivation,” Larsen said. “And then my own side was also cheering for me. I kind of used both as motivation to focus on my mental, and not get freaked out.”

Larsen and Semler are good friends and familiar foes. They played twice in junior tournaments late last year, with Larsen prevailing 6-1, 6-0 and 1-6, 7-5, 10-8. In the second match – in December in Tacoma -- Larsen also dug out of a deep hole, rallying to win after trailing 6-1, 5-1.

“I don't know what it is with me and him, but this is not the first occurrence of that happening,” Larsen said.

Larsen said he has a more aggressive approach than he did last year, when he lost to Beaverton's Tannor Binder in the No. 1 singles final at the Team Tennis Championships and again in the 6A quarterfinals.

“I feel a lot more offensive,” he said. “I'm controlling the points a lot more. I'm kind of the one controlling the match instead of getting pushed around a little bit. I'm definitely more powerful, stronger.”

Wood said that Larsen and Semler belong among a select group of 6A contenders. Other top players such as Lincoln senior Will Semler, (two-time reigning 6A champion), Southridge senior Vitomir Petcov and Mountainside sophomore Arnav Arora did not play in last weekend's tournament.

“Reif is in the toughest league in the state,” Wood said of the Metro League. “He's going to have a really tough district. But this was a good indicator that he's ready for it. This sets the tone that Reif is capable of playing with any of these guys in the state.”

Larsen was competitive in a junior match against Will Semler in February, falling 6-2, 7-5.

“I think everyone is pretty close in skill level, which makes it super fun,” Larsen said. “Will definitely is the main target. Me, Tiger, Vitomir and Arnav are all trying to take that top spot.”

West Linn's top-seeded doubles team of junior Rhyson Chiang and senior Keyan Fernando won the No. 1 doubles title at the Team Tennis Championships. They dispatched the No. 2 seed – Sunset seniors Kashal Rao and Kyle Zhou – 6-4, 6-1 in the final.

In last year's tournament, Chiang captured the doubles title with Cameron Paulsen, who has graduated.

At state last year, Chiang and Paulsen were runners-up and Rao and Zhou made the semifinals.