Joel Reichenberger: Special seniors
Steamboat Springs — Pueblo often seems like a city lost in time, and I’m not just talking about the 1960s motif that seems so prevalent in town.
I come to Pueblo only for high school sporting events, meaning most of my trips have revolved around the Class 4A high school state tennis tournament.
Every year — this was my third — it’s been the same.
I eat at the same restaurants. As a rule, that means chains that haven’t and won’t find their way to Steamboat Springs, yet ones I dearly miss — think Buffalo Wild Wings, Chili’s and Chipotle.
I stay in the same place — pretty much every reasonably priced hotel is along the same strip near the highway.
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I see the same tournament workers and townsfolk, from the line judges that make sure girls don’t take too long in timeouts to the old woman who sells cans of Diet Pepsi and hamburgers to the elderly man who prowls the grounds for trash he might want.
And, for each of my three years, I’ve covered many of the same girls.
The Steamboat Springs High School girls tennis team has been somewhat of a revolving door. Seniors have come and gone. Some girls moved away and some moved on. Others made only brief stops on the varsity roster and lived out all-too-short experiences in the state tournament.
The seniors from this year’s class, however, have made up the backbone of the team as I’ve known it, and thus have played a central role in many of my Pueblo experiences.
There’s one non-chain restaurant here I love. It’s call Pass Key’s, and they make a sandwich with an Italian sausage patty covered in three kinds of cheese.
Kylee Swiggart, Sara Bearss and Mandy Thielemann playing at state are as regular to me as that sandwich.
State has proven super special to Swiggart and Bearss, who won a championship together at No. 1 doubles last year as juniors.
Swiggart made it three consecutive trips to the state semifinals this year when she accomplished the feat at No. 2 singles.
Thielemann, meanwhile, hasn’t ever found the momentum she needed at the tournament but has qualified and played hard every year.
I definitely came to the point where I take it for granted that those three will make the tournament and play well. That reality was blurred a little this year. Bearss bowed out in the first round, again playing No. 1 doubles. Thielemann did the same at No. 3 singles. Swiggart fell in the semifinals and, with her, Steamboat lost its chance of winning an individual championship for three consecutive years.
That any of that surprised me only speaks to how easy they all made such difficult matches look in the past. Those three played decisive roles in the most dominating run in the program’s history, and no matter how state turned out for them this year, it doesn’t change their roles as pillars of the program.
I’ll be back next year. I’ll stay on the “strip.” I’ll eat at Pass Key’s, and I’ll buy a pop from the old woman’s cooler.
But it won’t be the same.
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