When senior tennis standout Alexis Mireles arrived for his live radio interview before the Broncos baseball game Wednesday, May 11, his maturity, confidence and poise were clearly reflected in the exultant expression on his face.
It was the same fulfilled and welcoming smile he wore when he arrived near the Historical Museum for a Cambrian print media interview Saturday, May 7. And why wouldn’t he be confident and happy? He’s about to graduate with honors from Coast Union High School and begin the transition to a far more robust academic challenge — which he welcomes — as an civil engineering major at the University of Southern California.
Mireles was “ecstatic” upon learning he had been accepted at USC, but “it was a little too expensive” compared with the other schools (San Jose State, Chapman University, and Loyola Marymount University) that had accepted him. “But a really generous man from Templeton offered financial assistance that made it possible for my family to be able to send me to USC,” Mireles said.
After all, USC was Mireles’ “dream school — it was my dream to go there.”
That same kind person — who became acquainted with Mireles’ father, a waiter at Moonstone Beach Bar and Grill, and had heard “a lot about me from my dad” — had previously provided funds for Mireles to take private tennis lessons.
Meanwhile, Mireles is putting a cap on an outstanding high school athletic career in football and tennis as he trains for the CIF playoffs (Thursday, May 26) for a second straight year. That patented smile can also be attributed to his 4.17 grade-point average and to his four-year relationship with talented Coast Union student-athlete Reagan Kniffen.
Mireles credits Kniffen for helping him develop the steadfast study habits that led to his his impressive GPA.
Mireles — whose singles record in his junior and senior years was 66-10 — acknowledged he spends about as much time preparing for his advanced placement finals (including physics) as he does practicing for his CIF venture.
Still, Mireles expects to train with professional tennis coach Art Sherwin (from Bakersfield), who provides private lessons and helps Mireles out “tremendously.”
“He really picks up on the little things, and he drills me really hard; I finish my water bottle every single time to the last drop because he works me so hard,” Mireles said.
He also expects to drive over to the Bakersfield Racquet Club and train with college-level tennis players in preparation for his CIF encounter.
Asked how his preparation is different this year from last year — when he lost in the first round 6-1, 6-0 — Mireles said that following his tennis drills with Sherwin, the two sit down for up to an hour for “psychological and mental training.”
“When I miss a ball now, I don’t freak out,” he explained, “and I’ve really worked on training my mind to put (errors) behind me and picture myself doing it right the next time.”
Last year’s CIF experience, he recalled, was just a matter of better players getting “past me. … I wasn’t going to go far. But this year, I really feel I can be competitive against tough players, and I’ll be able to win.”
When I miss a ball now I don’t freak out, and I’ve really worked on training my mind to put (errors) behind me and picture myself doing it right the next time.
Alexis Mireles, Coast Union’s No. 1 boys tennis player
Strategically, there will be “a mental battle” when the match is on, but Mireles said he will “try and keep to my patterns and not really try and go for too much. I will see what works out and get myself into the rhythm of the match. And if I’m feeling good, I’ll go for those big shots.”
Regarding his tennis career once he’s enrolled at USC, Mireles knows the Pac-12 school is nationally ranked in tennis, so he initially hopes to get some “hitting sessions” in with varsity players. Beyond that, he may try to “walk on and give it a shot.”
In any event, he will play tennis at some level: “I’m not going to stop playing tennis. It’s my favorite sport; I really fell in love with it. I wish I would have found this sport earlier. But I’ll be playing tennis at USC, whether intramural or club tennis.”
As an example of Mireles’ unselfish attitude, he originally went out for tennis at Coast Union as a sophomore when he realized that “the tennis program might fade away because they didn’t have enough players. So my friends and I went out to save the sport. At first it was a blast to be out there with my friends; then I really started getting into actually began being competitive. I liked the fact that it is an individual sport,” and the player accepts responsibility whether things go well or not.
In his radio interview, Mireles was asked whether he feels comfortable making the transition from Coast Union (with about 230 students) to USC (enrollment 43,000). “I know I am ready to make the adjustment,” he said with complete confidence.
His Coast Union coach, Tom Coxwell, agrees. “If anybody can make that switch, it’s Alexis. He seems more than ready to tackle the big city, the big university and an engineering major.”
Mireles’ goal upon graduation as a civil engineer is to learn to “design buildings and bridges.” Meanwhile, faced with daunting CIF competition May 26, he’ll have to design a line of attack to defeat those powerful opponents who got the best of him last year.
Freelance journalist and Cambria resident John FitzRandolph’s column appears biweekly and is special to The Cambrian. Email him at email@example.com.