Orin Duffin’s senior season was several years in the making, and that just made the final matches of his high school career that much sweeter.
After two previous seasons of advancing to the state championships and coming up shy of his goal, Duffin defeated Borah’s Kyle Whittaker 6-4, 6-4 on May 17 at the Boise Racquet and Swim Club to become the first District 6 5A boys singles state champion since former Idaho Falls High School and University of Montana standout Andrew Warren won in 2009.
Duffin also contributed to Hillcrest High School’s first boys tennis team state title since 2011 and its first in the 5A classification. The Knights won with 26 points to Centennial’s 21.
For winning an elusive state title to wrap up a senior season of domination in singles, Duffin repeats as the Post Register’s All-Area Boys Tennis Player of the Year.
What made his final season different? Duffin said he put in countless hours of practice since going 2-2 at state as a junior, working on his serve and focusing on being more aggressive. He stayed late, too, to put in extra time.
“I go to practice and play for another hour or more,” Duffin said. “This year I was able to play more the way I wanted to.”
Taking the extra time to practice and face quality opponents proved to be just what Duffin needed when he advanced to state a week after repeating as 5A District 5-6 boys singles champion by defeating teammate Spencer Neville 6-4, 6-0.
Duffin took a 6-2, 6-2 win over Boise’s Jacob Schoenherr in the opening round and outlasted Centennial’s Jack Leitzinger 2-6, 6-4, 7-5 in the semifinals to secure his spot in the title match.
Idaho Falls head tennis coach Tollan Whitlock, who has watched Duffin play for 10 years, said the semifinal win was a credit to Duffin’s strategy and skill.
“He played an absolutely smart, smart game,” Whitlock said. “He was losing energy, but he knew what he had to do and stuck to his game plan and was able to pull a victory.”
Duffin described the state singles title win as a long-awaited moment.
“It was exciting to know all my hours on the court were paying off,” Duffin said. “I feel like I had a few shots the past few years … I’ve always felt like I lacked something at state. It was awesome to see it all come together and be able to win it.”
Duffin will now take his talents to Idaho State University in the fall. He signed with the Bengals in April and has already become acquainted with his new teammates.
“I was able to watch a few matches this season,” Duffin said. “I’ve hit with some of the guys on the team. I feel like I’m familiar with how everyone does down there.”
As he begins the next chapter in his tennis career, he leaves behind a Hillcrest program that grew tremendously since he played his first high school match. The Knights had 38 athletes on their roster this year — 20 of whom were freshmen — and Duffin said he hopes the returning athletes will pursue the same dreams he had.
“When I was younger, seeing everyone else play well going down to state and seeing some win it, it really motivated me to win it,” Duffin said. “I loved tennis growing up. I always wanted to take it to the next level. It’s every athlete’s dream to go on after high school and play in college and see where it goes from there.”