As a sixth grader, Jack Hibbard was in awe of members of Wheeler's varsity boys tennis team.
"I saw them and thought, 'I have to be that good to play high school tennis,'" said Hibbard, who hit balls with varsity players back then. "It helped me understand what I had to do to play."
A few years later, Hibbard's No. 3 singles opponents are the ones dropping their jaws.
Entering today's Portage Sectional, Hibbard is 18-0 and hasn't dropped a set this season for the Times No. 5 Bearcats (14-4). His closest call was 7-5 as part of a straight-sets win against Crown Point.
"First and foremost, this kid has got a No. 1 player's game," Wheeler coach Mike Rosta said. "Those guys at No. 3 cannot handle his power.
"I'm not really sure if he has a weakness. His serve is strong, so are his volleys, and his backhand is as strong as his forehand."
It hasn't always been that way for Hibbard, who started to play tennis at age 2.
"My dad (Jeff) told me stories about how I would go out on the courts, and the racket was almost too heavy for me to carry," Jack said. "He said that I did the best I could."
Hibbard hasn't spent a lot of time in amateur events, but he's invested many hours with the Bearcats. Hibbard's mother, Junia, knew Rosta growing up, and those ties led to Jack's sixth-grade association with the varsity.
"He's hit with the boys since then, and I kind of knew what I was getting," Rosta said. "I just didn't know what he would do in the big matches. We've kept preaching confidence to him, and he's pretty comfortable out there now."
Hibbard has become a major part of the Bearcats' formidable singles lineup.
Senior Alex Dials and junior Drew Heinold both played a year of varsity No. 1 before this season began. Dials was at No. 1 as a sophomore, but he was an exchange student in Germany last year. Heinold took over at No. 1 in 2010, but now he follows Dials in the lineup.
"He could be the No. 1 on a lot of teams," Rosta said of Hibbard. "We're just so deep, and I don't see a reason to move him up."
Hibbard doesn't mind where's at, and he's making the most of his situation.
"They got so much more experience than me," Heinold said of Dials and Heinold. "They've both also helped me with my match strategies. They helped me raise my level of play."
The Bearcats face favorite Valparaiso in today's semifinals. While Hibbard enters the match with confidence, he's doesn't come in with a big head.
"I might be undefeated so far, but this is a new season," he said. "I'm 0-0 now. This isn't about looking back at my record."