Kirkland resident Caleb Ji is a strategist wherever his mind roams.
The Bear Creek School senior specializes in straddling both the tennis and mathematics realms, and he notched a boys singles state title after solving the 1B/2B/1A bracket situation with four wins last weekend at the Yakima Tennis Center.
Ji’s triumph chart was finalized with a 3-6, 6-1, 4-0 victory over Charles Wright Academy’s Griffin Welsh, who had to end the match with an injury.
“It’s just nice to have this accomplishment. I feel that I worked pretty hard for this. It turned out well and it’s a great feeling,” Ji said.
The Grizzly netter began his state journey with a 6-1, 6-0 win over Brady Smith of Lakeside, and then he knocked off Caeleb Hardesty of Tonasket, 6-2, 6-0, and Niamh Lakewolf of Deer Park, 6-4, 6-3, to set up the final match.
Ji, 18, began playing tennis in fifth grade and has competed for Bear Creek the last four years. It was his first state appearance and he admits to being a bit nervous stepping onto the court and facing Smith to kick things off.
Once his favorite tennis aspects — quickness, hand skills, strategy and mindset — began flowing through his body, he was set for the two-day tourney.
“The person who hits the hardest doesn’t always win. You have to figure out your opponent’s weakness and find the strategy that works well for you,” Ji said.
Heading into the tourney, Ji followed his schedule of training and eating well, and in Yakima before the main event he found some courts to play on to become acclimated to the hotter weather. Soon, he was ready for action.
“Playing two matches each day, I had to try and focus on each match and take it one step at a time,” he said. “After the first match, I felt more in control.”
To begin, he matched Smith’s consistency and then Ji started being aggressive at the net and he felt doing that worked well for him the rest of the tourney.
Ji’s match against Lakewolf was tougher than the others and he had to correct some mistakes.
“I managed to hang in there,” he said. “I kept on trying to be as aggressive as I could, so I turned it around.”
In the final, Ji could tell that Welsh was tired after having played in a lengthy semifinal. As the match continued, Welsh sustained a leg cramp and had to withdraw from the tourney.
Up 4-0 in the third set, Ji felt he was on a roll.
On winning state, Ji noted: “It was a little overwhelming. I wasn’t really expecting it since it was my first time going to state. I had a lot of support from my parents and coach. It was a great experience overall.”
Off the tennis court, the Washington University (St. Louis)-bound Ji earned a 2,380 on his SAT, nailed a perfect score and first place in number theory at the Princeton Math Competition and competed on the Canadian team and earned a bronze medal at the International Math Olympiad two years ago.
In college, Ji plans to major in math, and possibly have a second major in either biology or computer science. As for tennis, he hopes to play club or intramurals as a freshman and then maybe take a crack at the varsity level.