Louis Zoldy Zach Pendleton loves playing tennis. Since age 4, the Heritage High School senior has been spending most of his free time on the courts, …
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Zach Pendleton loves playing tennis.
Since age 4, the Heritage High School senior has been spending
most of his free time on the courts, even competing in tournaments
around the country.
In fact, spring is the only season Pendleton takes a break from
tennis, to play lacrosse. Otherwise, visit a tennis court in
Littleton, especially during the fall season, and you are likely to
find him doing what he does best: winning a tennis match.
That love of sport and for helping his Eagles teammates is what
made Sept. 27 and the week following so difficult.
On that last Saturday of September, Pendleton and the varsity
boys tennis team were participating in a scrimmage at Kent Denver.
It was a beautiful fall day with nothing out of the ordinary. That
was until Pendleton felt a twinge.
While using his spectacular court coverage to chase down and
return a volley, Pendleton’s knee twisted awkwardly. There was, at
first, a sharp pain, but that subsided. Pendleton played a couple
more games and then retired, knowing something was just not
“Even though the sharp pain went away, I could always tell it
was there,” he said. “At times I ran to the net and my knee
Pendleton resisted going to see a doctor immediately, instead
choosing to consult with his massage therapist. But when the
therapist suggested he see a doctor, noting that the knee did not
feel right, Pendleton gave in.
“I didn’t want to go to a doctor because I was scared they’d
tell me I can’t play,” he said.
His fears were justified. “The first day in the doctor’s office,
he gave me a no-hope report. He said either I’m out for four weeks
or four months.”
The news was devastating, especially given the year Pendleton
was having — a turnaround year for him. In year’s past, Pendleton
took his tennis very seriously and was more focused on his ranking
than just enjoying the sport he’d come to love, which brought a lot
of pressure and a lot of stress. But Pendleton has matured.
He is now more focused on the team and has enjoyed mentoring the
younger players and seeing their quick ascension, which has
Heritage as a whole once again looking to make some noise at
“He’s got a good head on his shoulders, and that’s become more
of a strength this year,” said head coach Robin Miller. “He’s got a
great perspective now, which allows him to just free up and
With this renewed attitude, Pendleton was having fun with
competitive tennis again, and playing better because of it — he
posted a 15-1 regular season record, also taking first in two
highly competitive tournaments. To see this season of all seasons
end prematurely …
Hope resurfaced after an MRI and a consult with a physical
therapist confirmed that Pendleton had only sprained his medial
collateral ligament. This came with a much better prognosis.
Because the ligament was not torn, the possibility of a return
would depend on how the young man responded to treatment.
Over the next week, Pendleton worked vigorously in physical
therapy to prove his knee was stable enough to return to the
courts. With the Region 4 tournament looming, which carried his and
his team’s hopes of qualifying for state, Pendleton was determined
to get back.
He would get his answer Oct. 6, when he was officially given to
OK to finish his final season of high school tennis.
“I worked as hard as I could and it was such a relief to know
that I’d be back out here,” Pendleton said. “I think as soon as I
was cleared to play that was a real big blessing in disguise. Now I
go out with the mentality that I’m on borrowed time.”
The senior is taking advantage of his second chance. Days after
being cleared to play, Pendleton took to the courts at Pinehurst
Country Club and secured his spot at the 5A state tournament by
defeating Miles Peterson of Doherty 6-2, 6-4 in the Region 4
finals, Oct. 9.
After winning the first game, Pendleton’s knee buckled and the
senior allowed his mind to wander — but he fought his way through
“He has the heart of a lion, and is a true champion in every
sense of the word with how he’ll give his all, regardless if his
knee is bad,” Miller said.
After the match, Pendleton admitted he has some limitations to
his game, but was nonetheless brimming with confidence.
“Trying to run up and stop or make quick movements are some
things my muscles haven’t really built back up to respond to real
quickly. Some of his lobs were in my reach, too, but I just
couldn’t get my feet under me to get them,” he said. “But I feel
better now than I did right before I got injured. Right now I’ve
got the competitive edge back.”
He will need it for state, which will be Oct. 16-18 at the Gates
Tennis Center in Denver. Every opponent will offer a grueling test
of physical and mental will, but it’s a challenge a refreshed
Pendleton says he is ready for.
“Every year I’ve gone to states with high expectations for
myself and not done very well, but that’s because I put too much
pressure on myself,” he said. “This year I am just going to relax
and play my game.”
And if ever Pendleton finds himself reverting to his old self —
taking the game too seriously and letting nuances of the game or
his opponent break him from his focus — he will have one little
reminder to help keep him grounded.
“I’ll look down and see that brace and remember that two weeks
ago I didn’t think I’d be here, so just make the best of it,” he
Once state has concluded and with it his high school tennis
career, Pendleton will be more focused on things he finds
Playing college tennis would be fun, but this young man sees
enrolling at the U.S. Army’s Military Academy in West Point, N.Y.,
or the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., and serving his
country as more important than his serve and volley technique.
“It’s been a dream of mine since I was little,” he said.
“Everyone I meet who has been in the military is a great person and
has so much character. I look up to them.
“We take a lot of freedoms for granted here, and there are some
people who have to step up and defend those freedoms,” he said. “I
want to be one of those people.”
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