Back in 2009, Western Albemarle’s boys tennis team had just wrapped up the program’s third-straight team state title and was gathering for a team photo. As the squad threw up three fingers to celebrate the three-peat, a certain elementary schooler edged his way into the photo, right next to his dad, then the head coach.
He already knew at seven that he was a part of that program — he was already on the team.
Now a senior in 2020, that elementary schooler went on to help lead his own team state title threepeat and become one of the most decorated tennis players in the Warriors’ history. From 2017 to 2019, Ix has racked up three team titles and three doubles championships, a perfect record with six titles in six chances.
He has continued a long line of success by the Ix family in Western tennis. His sisters Mady and Rosy Ix were critical players for the Warriors’ girls squad and father Charles stepped down from the boys head coach position back in 2011 after leading the program’s ascent as a state powerhouse while Alex’s mom Justine Montgomery has been at match after match over the years and helped run logistics for her children.
Perhaps most importantly though, the Virginia Tech-bound senior has proven to be the ultimate team player, putting aside individual goals for his teammates’ gains. For three years, Ix, has played No. 2 for Western when he would be the No. 1 on most any high school team and has occasionally played it for the Warriors. He would almost surely dominate at that spot for them as well because his strengths — he’s an incredible defensive player who covers a lot of court and is mentally tough enough to absolutely grind down taller, stronger opponents — make him a better singles player than a doubles player. But in a loaded program, he’s waited his turn, giving way to Daniel Thomas in 2017 and then Georgia transplant Gavin Segraves in 2018 and 2019, who won back-to-back singles titles and is the lone player with more championships to his name than Ix.
Last year it was actually a complete toss up who’d play the state singles tournament as Segraves and Ix flip-flopped the No. 1 spot much of the season. As the need to pick who’d be Western’s singles representative in the postseason arrived, Western coach Randy Hudgins left it up to Segraves and Ix to decide, even suggesting they could play a match in practice to decide who’d play. After a week, Ix, who figured he had another year, ended the conversation.
“The friendship was more important to Alex,” Hudgins said. “I came back after a week and he said, basically, ‘Let Gavin play’ didn’t even suggest a match. That just showed what type of kid he is.”
Ix, and nobody else really, could have foreseen last May what would happen a year later as he lost his final chance to play No. 1 for Western and compete for a singles title to the COVID-19 cancellations while shooting for a program-record fourth-straight team championship.
“The singles obviously would’ve been nice but I don’t think I would’ve looked forward to it any more than (competing for) the team and doubles titles,” Ix said. “I’m sad I missed out on another opportunity for the team and doubles titles too.”
Instead, Ix is left with an incredible career that likely would’ve been capped by a monster senior season as the squad’s No. 1 and a senior leader. He’s got some incredible memories too, like last year’s state championship team title that torrential rain forced inside to a single court with teams, parents and fans watching from a pro shop window while both squads slowly worked through the ladder. Or like the Region 3C semifinals back in his freshman year on the road against Hidden Valley. Appropriately, that one isn’t about his own success, but how a teammate rallied to keep their season alive.
In a match that stretched deep into the night because it was moved inside due to weather and started at 5 p.m., the Warriors went up 2-1 in doubles. The match came down to singles matches with Nicholas Hagspiel and Simon Rader and Hagspiel was on the ground nursing cramps at one point, trying to rally and finish off the match.
“Simon said he looked over and saw Nicholas on the ground and he was really struggling,” Ix said. “He knew he had to win the match or we wouldn’t win the state title that year. Simon won five points in a row and ended up winning 7-5 in a six-hour match.”
While Ix hasn’t been challenged a lot during his run for the Warriors, he plays high level tournament matches on the summer juniors circuit, squaring off against some of the nation’s top players. In Kalamazoo this summer, he squared off in the third round of UTSA boys national championships against Stanford’s No. 4 singles player Neel Rajesh.
“I’m playing these guys in high school and some of them aren’t as experienced as me and Gavin and they’re pretty quick matches,” Ix said. “But I go into matches this summer and I feel like I’m that guy that gets destroyed out there on court.”
Hudgens has seen some of those summer matches, and it illuminated another critical quality Ix possesses that should help him shine at the collegiate level. He understands big moments and he knows how to deliver.
“He’s the Kyle Guy that you want shooting free throws with one second left — he’s clutch,” Hudgins said. “In college if he’s the last guy on the court, he’ll win that match, because he very rarely loses tiebreakers and very really loses long matches.”
Ix has developed under the tutelage of Mitchell Frank, a six-time national champion at UVa who’s helped him figure out his own style and how to maximize his strengths.
“I’m 5-7, 5-6, it’s not like that’s a secret, we can’t hide that from anyone,” Ix said. “Not every player is the same and some coaches don’t realize that and try and make everyone into a serve and volley player. Like of course I’m not going to be able to do that. So he kind of knows that that’s not who I’m going to be. And so help me kind of find my game and develop me to be like that.”
The kind of determination to play your own game that Ix has shown over the years comes from somewhere deep inside. It comes from a confidence that you can handle any situation and find a way to win.
It comes from the kind of resolute confidence that makes a seven year old know that he’s on the team. That’s part of why Ix can be the ultimate team player in an individual sport that’s often long on ego. He’s not insecure about his own skill set, he’s not threatened by other players or driven solely by individual accomplishments — he’s secure and resolute, confident in his own abilities and that allows him to put his team, program and school first.
“I just really like going out there and being able to hopefully be a person that can represent the school in a positive way and bring home championships for the school,” Ix said.
He’s done that for three years, he likely would’ve found a way to do it again as a senior. And he’ll likely continue to do that at the college level and beyond.