CHEYENNE – Elijah Norgauer was vacationing with his family in the Bay Area in April 2017 when he was introduced to the sport he would soon fall in love with.
The Cheyenne Central senior had held a tennis racket maybe “once when I was 10 years old.” He grew up playing soccer. But the then-15-year-old stepped on the court with his family for an afternoon of tennis and got a taste for what he had never experienced.
The adrenaline. Physicality. Individuality. Emotions.
But one thing stuck with Norgauer more so than anything else. He realized how much fun his father, Milan Norgauer, his grandfather, Carl Norgauer, his aunt, cousins and other family members were having. Elijah Norgauer saw the enjoyment painted on each loved one’s face, and the smiles and laughs that followed.
“I don’t know if it’s genetic, or if it just kind of happens,” Elijah Norgauer said. “I wanted to get out on the court, and I really liked it, too. I just had that will to get better, because the better you get, the more fun it is, too.”
The day was coming to an end, but Elijah Norgauer stuck around and continued playing. He had so much fun that day, Milan Norgauer said he had to virtually drag his son off the court.
“The single biggest factor that day was that he was with the extended family out in California doing what we always do when we get together, which is dust off our rackets, spend an afternoon at the courts and just bond as a family,” Milan Norgauer said. “And I think he saw that, and he saw something special in that, and he thought, ‘You know what? I want to be a part of that. If that’s what the family does, I want to not sit on the sidelines, but also play.’
“I think he saw it as a bigger picture than just the tennis itself as a family tradition.”
Soon after returning to Cheyenne, Elijah Norgauer quit soccer and went out for the Central varsity tennis team. He learned the game from his father and grandfather. Elijah Norgauer always was appreciative of any sliver of wisdom his grandfather shared.
“(Elijah) really longs for his approval and appreciates the input that he gives,” Milan Norgauer said.
Elijah Norgauer spent every minute of daylight he could on the tennis court practicing his serves, perfecting his ground strokes, improving his speed and endurance. He has been glued to the TV during the U.S. Open and constantly watches tennis videos on YouTube – jotting down anything he can in order to get better.
“There’s definitely a ton that I can improve on,” he said.
He played doubles his first two seasons for the Indians, and he qualified for the state tournament each of the past two years.
This season, he made the switch to No. 1 singles. However, as a late bloomer, experience has been something he has lacked.
“Just the ability to grind a match out, even if you feel like your strokes are better than another person’s,” Elijah Norgauer said. “Sometimes they’ll have the experience, and they’ll just be able to hit the ball, (and) they’ll see your weaknesses. Experience is huge in tennis. It’s not just the practice, it really takes time to get better.”
But Elijah Norgauer has made it a priority to continually grow in every aspect. He spent so much time on the court when he first started that he never went through a steep learning curve, Milan Norgauer said.
“He was coordinated and strong from day one,” Milan added. “As I fed him balls, he could hit them and his topspin was pretty good from the beginning.”
There also was a downside to Elijah Norgauer first starting tennis as a teenager. He never got to experience the little things of the sport – the first time successfully hitting the ball over the net in bounds or making sure the racket doesn’t fall out of your grasp.
“You’re not worried about hitting it hard, you’re not worried about winning points,” his father said. “You’re just like, ‘Look, Mommy, I made it in!’ He never had that.”
Instead, Elijah Norgauer had to come up with his own way of growing. A lot of it is through his unwavering aggressiveness and the ability to power his way to win points and matches. But he has had to learn to find a balance between being aggressive and overdoing it in order to become more consistent.
He has been consistent so far this season – he owns a 6-2 overall record. Two of those losses were due to an injury he suffered in a match against Laramie’s Kyle Moore on Aug. 29. Elijah Norgauer pushed the match to a third set when he was forced to retire. He missed the following dual against Thunder Basin on Sept. 5, but he bounced back to defeat Torrington’s Brian Fenn 6-2, 6-3 on Tuesday.
“There are three or four really, really strong No. 1 singles players in the state,” said Milan Norgauer, who has been a Central assistant coach for the past three seasons. “One of them here in town, Brendan (Lock), is the two-time defending state champ, so he is the best.
“When (Elijah) runs into those two or three really strong players, that’ll be the challenge.”
Elijah Norgauer was swept by Lock 6-1, 6-0 on Aug. 21, the first dual of the season for both squads. But the Central standout hasn’t let that defeat bring him down. He is focused on what the coming weeks will bring. Central and Jackson tied for the team state championship last fall with 35 points apiece. Norgauer is eyeing a similar result come Sept. 26 in Gillette.
“That’s what this is all building up for,” he said. “It’d be great to win it at 1 singles, but we’ll see what happens. The team is definitely more important than the individual.”
As Elijah Norgauer prepared for a dual against crosstown rival Cheyenne East earlier this month, he reflected on his decision to quit soccer and go out for tennis. If he had to do it all over again, he would change one thing.
“I definitely wish I would’ve started tennis sooner,” he said. “That would’ve been cool to see how good I could’ve been by now.”
On the links
Central, East and Cheyenne South start play at the Casper Invitational today in Casper. Central is coming off a good week that saw Caden Jackson (143) and Katie Cobb (176) win the Rawlins Invitational. Both the Indians (657) and Lady Indians (538) took home the team titles.
On the trail
Pine Bluffs-Burns and South head to the Kimball (Nebraska) Invitational at noon Friday, while East will compete at the Wolverine Invitational in Greeley, Colorado. Pine Bluffs-Burns senior Piper Perez placed second at the Gering Invite last week, crossing the finish line in 21 minutes, 7.61 seconds. Sophomore teammate Emma Gonzales placed third in 21:53.
In the pool
South hosts East, Casper Kelly Walsh and Green River at 4 p.m. Friday, while Central hosts Casper Natrona County, Sheridan and Thunder Basin. The Lady Indians won 10 events to defeat the Lady Bison 138-48 in a dual Tuesday.