Thomas Loaiza played what might be his final tennis match on Thursday.
Prior to this season, however, it was uncertain whether the Hardin Valley senior would return to the court or even hold a racket again. The person who introduced him to the sport and mentored him was gone.
That person was his mother, Bibiana Loaiza.
“She was the one that usually went with me to the tennis tournaments and such,” Loaiza said. “She was probably my biggest fan. I definitely miss her watching me play tennis.”
Bibiana Loaiza became sick with stomach cancer during Thomas’ sophomore year, while he attended Knoxville Webb. She died his junior year. After her passing, Thomas made the transfer to Hardin Valley.
Her passing was one of the reasons Loaiza decided to take a step away from the sport. A number of things had to come together to bring him to don his new school’s uniform his senior season.
“I wanted to represent Hardin Valley, so I decided, ‘Why not?’ You know,” Loaiza said, grinning at his coach, Seth Rayman. “I was feeling better about everything. I took the chance and it didn’t turn out too bad.”
Loaiza’s career started at Webb, where he played his 8th grade through sophomore year. The Spartans won state all three years. Loaiza spent time warming up with former teammates at the tennis courts at Old Fort before his match Thursday.
The plan was to get to Murfreesboro one last time. In that respect, he succeeded.
“That was my intention,” Loaiza said. “It almost didn’t happen, but I pulled it off. I’m happy about that.”
Loaiza’s season ended Thursday morning after a grueling match against defending state champion Sam Fischer. The Brentwood High and Alabama commit beat Loaiza, two sets to none. Loaiza had taken down Fischer while at Webb; his time away from tennis left him a bit rusty when the two met in the first round of this year’s state tournament.
“Obviously, Sam is a very good player and has been playing throughout the year very intensely,” Loaiza said. “It’s nice to see him again and I wish him the best.”
Loaiza said it was bittersweet to see his tennis career come to an end as early as it did. He said he plans to attend the University of Tennessee in the fall as a business major. He’s not leaning towards playing on UT’s club tennis team; he’s more excited to enter the next phase of his life and find a career. Ideally, he’d be an entrepreneur. He and a group of friends are currently working on creating a smartphone app.
“I can’t divulge, but I am pursuing a startup,” Loaiza said with a sly grin. “We’ll see what happens in that endeavor.”
He wore a necklace of a cross he said he never takes off in honor of his mother, especially when he’s competing on the court. He had her on his mind each set he played this season.
“She was there for almost all the tournaments we went to,” Loaiza said. “She would drive me to all these tournaments. They were three, four, five, six hours away. Even eight or nine. She was always there with me. She was very critical in my development as a player.”
Loaiza couldn’t pinpoint what exactly helped him get through the loss of his mother. He spoke highly of his friends, who supported him through his grief. He also tried not to think of the difficult things that were going on at the time, devoting his time to schoolwork.
“I see life like, you never know what’s going to happen,” Loaiza said. “I think you just have to live in the moment and not dwell on the past or the future. ‘Cause you never know which path your life is going to take.
“I think a lot of people dwell on unimportant things in their lives,” Loaiza said. “Things that don’t really make a difference in what they’re doing. I think it should be very important for people to live in the present, focus on what they’re doing in the now instead of dwelling on those other unimportant things.”
His father, neurologist Sergio Loaiza, was in the crowd to see his son’s final match. It was a special moment for the two, who, with Thomas’ younger sister (who will be a freshman at Hardin Valley in the fall), have had to adjust to a different life without Bibiana.
“He’s very supportive,” Loaiza said of Sergio. “He’s been very patient, because there have been times where it’s been very difficult as a family. Things are different now.”
As for Thomas, he said he knew returning to the sport was absolutely the right thing to do. He did it for himself, and his mother.
“I think she’d be happy that I’m playing tennis again,” Loaiza said.