Steamboat girls fight through tiebreakers to win home tournament
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Steamboat Springs High School junior Noelle Cerone hit so hard that she broke the strings on her first racket.
March 8 and 9: at Grand Junction
March 15 and 16: home tournament
March 20: at Evergreen
March 23: vs. Fruita Monument
March 29: at Thompson Valley
March 30: at Poudre
April 3: at Vail Mountain
April 6: vs. Aspen
April 6: vs. Conifer
April 11: at Ralston Valley
April 12: at Eaton
May 3 and 4: at Delta
May 9 to 11: state
It was the battle scar of the ultimate comeback on the rise at No. 3 singles during the finals of the Steamboat tennis tournament at the Tennis Center at Steamboat Springs on Saturday, March 16.
Cerone had been down 4-1 earlier in the set, and now was just one game down, 6-5, against her opponent, Golden senior Anastasia Ouetekhine.
The Steamboat crowd watching from the deck above roared with claps and shouts, “Go Noelle!,” while Ouetekhine’s teammates leaned over the railing crossing their fingers.
When Cerone tied it up 6-6, she pumped her fist in the air and yelled, “Let’s go!”
“I just tried to keep myself up for the match,” Cerone said. “That’s why I said, ‘Let’s go,’ because when I do that, my energy goes up, and I’m in it.”
Cerone’s opponent’s strength nearly matched hers. It was a tough transition coming off two matches yesterday against more consistent and weaker swings.
Today she had to learn when it was the right time to use her strength to her advantage, her occasional tendency to overpower swings cost her points. Ouetekhine mirrored that weakness, but Cerone was just quicker to adapt. She mixed it up, once offering what appeared to be an easy volley, only to see Ouetekhine slam it in the net.
The comeback flustered Ouetekhine, but she managed to stay steady. Cerone claimed a 7-6 lead and Ouetekhine tied it up at 7-7 to send it into a tiebreaker. Cerone’s final slam sealed a 7-3 tiebreak win for the Sailors, ultimately keeping them in contention for the team title.
As one of the most exciting matches of the day, Cerone was met with congratulatory hugs and high-fives as she walked off the court. As a junior, Cerone has yet to play a full season of high school tennis due to injuries. The attention that came with a hard-fought victory was unfamiliar.
“I love all the support out there, everyone cheering because I’ve never really had that,” Cerone said. “I don’t like people watching me play, so that was nerve wracking, but once I started coming back it was like, ‘Ok it’s fine now.'”
“She has that unspoken drive,” head coach Kristyn Wykert said. “She has such a level head, and I’m able to tell her a few tidbits and from there it’s all on her. She’s amazing in that way, just strong-willed and knows what needs to get done.”
Before Saturday, the Sailors hadn’t dropped a set, earning them a spot in the championship against the Golden Demons.
Steamboat junior Mae Thorp, a two-time state runner-up, commanded the opening match and sealed it with two straight aces at No. 1 singles against sophomore Antonia Sloan, 8-2.
Thorp struggled in the first game of the match, unable to place her hits off Sloan’s serve.
“I usually play against people with harder serves,” Thorp said. “So I’m used to sticking out my racket, so I need to work on actually returning the serve.”
But Thorp’s serve was at times too powerful for Sloan, and Sloan was respectful in defeat, complimenting her as they shook hands.
“I felt like I played way better than I did last year at this tournament,” Thorp said. “I have a big problem with nerves, so I think just everyone watching was getting to me, but finally, I zoned in. Last year at this time you could’ve seen my legs shaking on the court, I was so scared.”
Steamboat senior Lily Fox struggled in her match against junior Kenzie Middleton. Middleton was quick on her feet, able to get to Fox’s more tricky shots to the sharp corners of the shallow court. Fox fought through, but stayed consistently down by one to two games before falling 8-5.
Middleton returned in the No. 1 doubles match with her partner, senior Kate Ludford, to seal an 8-4 victory for the Demons over juniors Morgan Sauerbrey and Lauren Ehrlich, tying the team competition going into the final matches.
The doubles team of Steamboat seniors Maddie Heydon and Soria Rabanal defeated Golden senior Emily Feasel and junior Cait Remington, 8-2, to grab the edge, but the team of freshmen Lauren Fullerton and Liesel Wilkinson lost in a tight contest, 8-6, leaving it to the final doubles match of the day to determine the victory.
The team of junior Kara Stanhope and senior Katelyn Kline won the weekend tournament for the Sailors in a 7-4 tiebreaker over Shelby Trayior and Ella Ganter.
Golden, a class 4A school, defeated Aspen to earn a spot in the finals. Aspen was the tournament’s reigning champion after defeating the Sailors in the finals last year.
“I knew going into this year we were going to have a strong team with great depth in our lineup,” Wykert said. “But after today, it shows what we can do and the statement we can make at state.”
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