Noah Austin was supposed to play doubles his freshman year at Bishop Kelly High. He subbed into the No. 1 singles match in a dual with Mountain Home that year when the Knights' top player was sick.
Austin only lost one game in the match — and there was never any more talk of doubles.
"I called him over and said, 'Hey, you're playing singles the rest of the year,' " Bishop Kelly coach John Armstrong said.
And so began a historic run.
Austin won his fourth straight 4A boys singles state title Saturday at Boise State — a feat no boy had accomplished in any classification since the Idaho High School Activities Association began logging annual champions in 1985-86. Tristin Heinrich of Boise won three straight from 2002 to 2004 in 5A and Josh Goodwin of Century won three out of four from 2010 to 2013 in 4A.
Austin lost just 10 games across four matches at this year's state event. He beat Brian Zhu of Century 6-2, 6-1 in the championship match.
"There was a lot of pressure," Austin said. "Three times, everyone wants to take you down. That's the main pressure going into it."
He felt the pressure most acutely in the second set of the semifinal, he said. After winning his first five sets at state by scores of 6-0 or 6-1, he took the second set against Middleton freshman Austin Swing 7-5 on Saturday morning.
The BK star's thought process going into the final: "That no matter how hard it was or how much I hurt, I would keep going," he said. "I knew with what I had going into it, I could win. It was just a matter of staying mentally tough."
Austin was a surprise champ his freshman year, when he won the first set of the state final 7-6. He won the opening set by that score again as a sophomore. But the last two years, he's been a dominant force at the 4A level.
"I'm really in awe of the boy," Armstrong said. "You have to have a weapon to beat him."
Austin beat Zhu with a combination of powerful serves when he needed momentum and steady groundstrokes that forced his opponent to be nearly perfect to win games.
"I only have to help coach him a few times a year, and it's less each year," Armstrong said. "We've had some really magical moments together at state and at district."
Austin has played tennis since he was about 7 and began competing when he was 10. But he stopped playing tennis as much when he reached high school to focus on academics. He estimates he spent about an hour a week on tennis outside of the high school season. He'll enroll at Boise State in the fall but has no plans to play competitive tennis.
"I like it," he said, "but there's other things to do."