Friends, professors and colleagues remember Alex Rovello

Alex James Rovello, born in Portland, Ore., to parents Jim and Geri Rovello passed away Saturday night following a cliff diving accident on the McKenzie River. (Ryan Kang/Freelance)

Alex James Rovello, born in Portland, Ore., to parents Jim and Geri Rovello passed away Saturday night following a cliff diving accident on the McKenzie River. (Ryan Kang/Freelance)

Posted by Samantha Matsumoto on Monday, May. 13 at 9:00 am.

Jonas Piibor’s Facebook status appeared on Saturday night.

“I loved you like my own son,” he wrote.

A few hours later, the University of Oregon assistant tennis coach updated his status again.

“R.I.P. Alex Rovello,” it said.

Rovello, a junior journalism major and esteemed tennis player at the University of Oregon, died Saturday after jumping from a 60-foot cliff into the Blue Pool at Tamolitch Falls. He was 21. Witnesses at the scene told responders that Rovello hit the water face and chest first, and that attempts by bystanders to rescue him were unsuccessful due to his depth in the near-freezing water.

Because there was no cell reception in the area, a witness had to run almost two miles to make a 911 call. Linn County Emergency Dispatch received the call at 2 p.m. Dive teams and search and rescue teams from Linn and Lane counties, as well as Linn County Sheriff’s Mounted Posse, Eugene Mountain Rescue and Corvallis Mountain Rescue, responded to the call. Rovello’s body was recovered from the bottom of Tamolitch Pool at approximately midnight.

For his teammates and friends, news of Rovello’s death came as a shock.

Gonzaga graduate Vineet Mehndiratta, who played tennis with Rovello since age 10, received the news the night before his college graduation.

“I got the call and I just sat down. I didn’t know what to think. I thought it was a joke and that someone was kidding. He’s like 21 or 20 — that just doesn’t happen. I just sat down and couldn’t do anything for a couple minutes,” Mehndiratta said in an interview with the Emerald. “It was the worst night. The worst I feel for is his teammates. I know how tight-knit a team is and how like a team is like your family.”

The team’s collective grief was reflected by men’s tennis head coach Nils Schyllander.

“The Oregon tennis family is devastated by the loss of Alex,” Schyllander wrote in a press release on the GoDucks website. “He was an amazing person and teammate and his spirit will live on forever with all of us who were fortunate enough to have known him.”

Rovello was revered for his tennis career at the UO and at Cleveland High School, where he graduated in 2010. Last year, Rovello finished the 2011-2012 season with a 21-12 singles record, moving him into a sixth place tie for most wins in a season in UO history. In high school, Rovello was the first in Oregon history to win four consecutive state singles finals, and finished his high school career with a perfect 50-0 singles record.

Rovello’s talent and dedication to his work was an inspiration to high school teammate Saresh Kumar.

“People can learn how to live from his work ethic and liveliness,” Kumar said.

Though Rovello was the star of the tennis team, Kumar said that Rovello always treated his teammates as equals. When Kumar only had one tennis racquet, he remembers Rovello giving him three of his own.

“That just shows what a great person he was,” Kumar said. “He was really an inspiration to a lot of people.”

Glencoe High School tennis player Stuart Tierney often played against Rovello, and lost to him three times in the Oregon state championships. Nonetheless, Tierney held Rovello in high esteem.

“As a tennis player, he was definitely someone I looked up to a lot,” Tierney said. “Even if he was killing me on the court, I was just enjoying the moments playing against him.”

Journalism professor Dan Morrison, who taught Rovello in his Gateway classes, said that Rovello’s dedication was also reflected in his school work. According to Morrison, despite the pressure of juggling athletics and academics, Rovello was a model student who would visit Morrison’s office hours almost weekly.

“He never complained. He was asked to do so much more than a lot of other students,” Morrison said in an interview. “It’s a loss because he was such a great role model for other students.”

According to fellow student and friend Gregory McAteer, the loss of Rovello is especially difficult because of the future Rovello had ahead of him.

“Losing any student is horrific. Especially a student who has academically succeeded, who has athletically achieved a great deal here,” McAteer said. “He was a guy who had so much potential and just such an amazing future ahead of him. It just hurts so much to see a life cut so short so soon.”

The Rovello family is planning a memorial service at St. Philip Neri Catholic Church in Portland on May 18.