Cape Central's Jaramillo will play in Class 2 state singles championship this weekend

Friday, May 25, 2012
Central’s Pablo Jaramillo will compete at the Class 2 state singles championship this weekend in Springfield, Mo. (Laura Simon)

Pablo Jaramillo got a different reception than he expected when he walked into Central High School midway through his freshman year.

"I expected to it just be coming in, new school, you're just a regular kid, but the first week I got here, everyone knew who I was," Pablo said. "They were like, ‘Hey, Pablo.' I felt so popular. It was so cool. I was like, ‘I love this place.'"

Pablo and his brother Alvaro both got warm receptions from curious classmates when they moved from Mexico City in 2010.

"I really didn't want to move, but it actually turned out pretty well," said Alvaro, who recently graduated. "The first day of school was like a day of glory kind of because all the sudden we got all this attention from everyone. It was pretty cool, I think."

It wasn't long before Pablo headed to the Central tennis courts, a place where he was more than comfortable.

Central’s Pablo Jaramillo serves during a match earlier this month. Jaramillo will compete in the Class 2 state singles championship this weekend in Springfield, Mo. (ADAM VOGLER)

"And then I came out on the tennis courts and then everybody started liking me a lot more," Pablo said.

Pablo, a junior, will play in the Class 2 state singles championship beginning today. He is the first Central player to advance to the singles championship in coach Bud Craven's tenure. Rob Hale was the only other Central player to advance to the singles championship.

"He's by far the best singles player that I've ever had," Craven said. "And maybe Cape Central."

Pablo started playing tennis when he moved to Mexico City from New Jersey when he was 8 years old.

"It's a pretty long story. I'll tell you," Pablo said before reciting his family's path to Cape Girardeau, which was prompted by his father's job at Unilever. It's a story he's told many times before.

"I was born in Colombia in a town called Cali. Then when I was 3, I moved to New Jersey. I learned English. And when I was 7, I moved to Mexico, and I lived in Mexico for seven years. And then I moved here after Mexico."

While he now speaks perfect English with almost no trace of an accent, he wasn't immediately comfortable transitioning from speaking Spanish almost full time.

"When I first moved here, it was difficult," Pablo said. "I was really quiet. I didn't really want to talk because I was embarrassed of my accent and stuff."

It didn't take him long to be reacquainted with the language, which he and Alvaro got a chance to practice while visiting their cousins in Virginia each summer.

"I made friends really quick," Pablo said. "I was open to new things and stuff. I'm social, I guess, and I like to be around people, so it wasn't that hard moving."

Pablo joined the tennis team as a freshman, but a broken wrist sidelined him for most of the season.

"Immediately I know that he's a great player and this is really spectacular to have a kid like this," Craven said about watching Pablo play for the first time.

Pablo played doubles in the playoffs with teammate Sam Staley last season. He decided to play singles this year.

He has compiled a 22-3 record this season, and he avenged one of those losses last weekend against Eureka's James Huang.

"I've been practicing hard these few days," Pablo said. "At Eureka I played a really tough match, which I felt that was the match that said I'm ready for state because I pulled it out in three sets. These last matches I've played, I feel like they've prepared me for state better. I just feel happy to be there. I wish my team would have made it, so we could all go to state and share that opportunity."

Finding competition in the area that can make him better, or even challenge him, has been difficult.

"I would like to find someone my age who is as good as me," Pablo said. "It's nice to have someone you can compete with that's your age, like if there was some really good guy on the tennis team who was No. 1, I'd be like, ‘I want to play with that kid every weekend until I can beat him,' but I don't have that incentive."

Craven has found ways to compensate by consulting with other coaches from around the state to find exercises to improve Pablo's game.

"That is very difficult," Craven said. "There is no one on the team that can really hit with him, so we do a variety of different drills where I put two on him. I bring people in to hit with him."

Competition was easy to find in Mexico City, where the Jaramillo family belonged to a tennis club. Pablo was coached there as well as at American School Foundation, where he attended classes.

"There was a really good tennis level there because people there played year round, and so that really helped," Alvaro said.

The brothers routinely played in weekend tournaments sanctioned by a Mexican tennis organization called ATDF.

"In Mexico City, I was ranked in the top five when I played 10 and under, 12 and under, 14 and under and 16 and under," Pablo said. "And then I moved here."

He gained an understanding of how to construct points and combat opponents' tactics at an early age from his coaches in Mexico.

"Pablo's gifted in this game," Craven said. "Anyone that sees him play knows that he is. He has the ability to see the ball very clearly and to anticipate and to place the ball at will. He just has great hand-eye coordination."

His experience helps set him apart from most Central tennis players, many of whom don't start playing until they're in high school, according to Craven.

"He doesn't get excited about the ball," Craven said. "He's able to wait and then place it where he wants to. Most people get really over excited. One of his great shots that he has is he'll get a shot over his head. A lot of kids are racing back and just taking a wild swing. He'll go back and just get under it and put it right back where he wants it.

"He also hits behind people a lot, which really gets to a lot of his opponents, his ability to know where they are and hit behind. It's very demoralizing. And it's not easy to do. It's not something that's easy to teach somebody to do that. He learned as a young kid."

While reaching the championships is a rare accomplishment, his draw, which was released Thursday, makes it unlikely that he'll advance on the championship side of the bracket.

He will face undefeated Rock Bridge senior Ford Zitsch. Zitsch, a University of Nebraska commit, was the runner-up in Class 2 a season ago and defeated Pablo 6-0, 6-0 in a match earlier this season, a score Pablo has beaten more than one of his opponents by this season.

It's an unlucky turn of events but not one that Pablo seems a likely candidate to dwell on.

"I'm going to move from here," he said before he knew who his first-round opponent would be. "It's not really going to matter any more. I'm going to move from Cape, like my life is not going to revolve around here. I want to go some place. I want to move around the world. I have different plans for my life, so this is not really that important to me. Like it's good that I'm playing tennis and I'm doing good at it, but I don't see my life revolving around my tennis career.

"I love the sport of tennis, but I don't think that's what I want for my future."

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