When Flagstaff Eagles boys tennis head coach Ernie Rice first saw Layton Hagerman during June basketball a year ago, he had no idea the young athlete could excel on more than just one type of court.
Rice caught word that Hagerman was a force with a tennis racket in his hands, and he got to witness firsthand just how good the freshman is as the Eagles had a bounce-back spring.
“Everything he does, he doesn’t hold back,” Rice said of Hagerman, who played at the No. 1 singles and doubles spot for the Eagles.
Hagerman finished his first year on varsity with a 12-2 record at No. 1 singles, helping Flagstaff go 11-4 before reaching the Division II state tournament as the 14th seed. He and doubles partner Sam Jensen finished the regular season with a 9-4 mark and made noise at the state tourney as they worked their way to a quarterfinal appearance.
“We played some very hard doubles matches this season," said Hagerman, one of a few promising young players who helped the Eagles have a turnaround season after the team went 5-8 in 2018. "We won a few and lost some, too. In the state tournament, when we won our first match, our mentality was like, ‘OK, we won one, so we are good now, we have nothing to lose.’"
For his strong leadership skills, solid play and ability to make an impact as a freshman, Hagerman has been named the 2019 Arizona Daily Sun Boys Tennis Athlete of the Year.
Among Flagstaff's recent youth movement, Hagerman stood out from the start. And he handled moving into the No. 1 spot effortlessly.
“I don’t know if he felt a burden. He just went out and had fun, and the kids followed that. And I think him being No. 1, I think he wanted that," Rice said. "I think one of his goals was to play No. 1, and I’ll tell you what, that kid took hold of it.”
Hagerman went 6-0 against opponents who were in their senior seasons, and he beat junior Sam Stoeker of Prescott, who made the D-II state singles tournament. During the state doubles tournament, he and Jensen, unseeded in the bracket, opened with a victory over a Canyon Del Oro pair and then upset the No. 3-seeded pair from Lee Williams, avenging a regular-season loss to the Volunteers duo.
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The two have been playing tennis for some time now, so their pre-existing chemistry made for a successful season.
“They had a really great regular season and when we went into that state tournament we didn’t know what was going to happened. Then all of a sudden, they won one match, and then another, and then they were in the quarterfinals. And they did a great job," Rice said.
In fact, Hagerman said he has played with members of the team before entering the varsity program.
Playing at the high school level drove Hagerman to want to succeed. He enjoyed playing competitive tennis with teammates and relished taking on tough competition at the No. 1 spot. In the past, his competition normally consisted of playing his dad, who Hagerman described as being passionate about the sport and a major reason he plays.
“I loved playing with other kids,” Hagerman said while hanging out with some tennis buddies during an interview Thursday. “It’s a super-fun experience and the bus trips, the travel was fun and playing tough opponents, it was really fun.”
Rice said Hagerman "took over a leadership role – maybe unassumingly, but he took that role.” It was a good fit for the young team.
“I think he set examples work ethic-wise, and all the kids started working hard, and they had already worked hard. I think that combination of kids that came in started to change the atmosphere and the dynamics of this tennis team," Rice said.
Now, Rice isn't the only one who knows to watch Hagerman no matter what court he's on.