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Air Academy’s Kameron Hooker returns a rally during the No. 3 doubles championship match Friday, Sept. 18, 2020, against Cheyenne Mountain’s Tyler Blixt and Hank Walsh during the 4A Region 6 boys tennis tournament at Cheyenne Mountain High School in Colorado Springs. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)

Usually this time of year, Air Academy senior Kameron Hooker is on the field helping the Kadets reign over 4A soccer, winning two state titles and appearing in three state championship games in his career.

But as the coronavirus pandemic forced the Colorado High School Activities Association to move the boys’ soccer season to the spring, Hooker needed to find something to fill his time.

So he picked up a tennis racquet for the first time in more than seven years.

Now, he’s on the way to the 4A tennis state championships alongside No. 3 doubles partner Lane Horsfall.

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“It has been so much fun,” Hooker said. “I love this team, and to get an opportunity to play tennis is a dream for me, so it has been awesome.”

Air Academy coach Matthew Kiser has known Hooker since he was about six, and coached him in tennis as a kid. And although Kiser said there was a learning curve when Hooker decided to rejoin the team, his biggest qualification to become a successful varsity player wasn’t his tennis experience, but simply being an athlete.

“Having the mindset of an athlete is huge,” Kiser said. “He knows how to compete no matter what sport, and that helped his partner as well. He had a lot to learn, but he was actively doing it because as a great athlete he knows what it takes.”

Horsfall and Hooker claimed the first set against Connor Kofford and Johnson Peng 6-4, but ultimately dropped the final two sets to the Cheyenne Mountain duo.

“Playing against Cheyenne is always a huge rival in soccer so getting that chance again even if it’s not soccer is just so much fun,” Hooker said. “Cheyenne is such a good tennis team to get a set on them is huge, so that gives Lane and I a lot of confidence going into state and our opportunity there.”

Two singles players and four doubles teams from Air Academy qualified for the state championships next week at Pueblo City Park following a season in which Kiser said he didn’t have great expectations.

His squad almost doubled in size with the addition of other varsity athletes like Hooker joining a new sport. Kiser said he hoped to simply teach his new additions the sport, but saw exponential growth from his team following a 7-0 loss to Cheyenne Mountain earlier in the season.

“At the beginning of the year, we just got crushed,” Kiser said. “But today every set was close no matter who we played. These guys did a phenomenal job all season learning and growing.”