Steamboat girls tennis prepares for state tournament
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — The bracket for the Colorado High School Activities Association girls state tennis tournament is set, and Steamboat Springs has a hefty presence on it.
The Sailors, which are sending all 11 members of its team to state, have a chance at multiple state titles and a top placement as a team.
The girls will load the bus Thursday to begin competition on Friday, May 10, in Greeley. The tournament, previously set for Thursday through Saturday, will be condensed into two days: Friday and Saturday.
This gives Steamboat just one more day of practice, which could pay dividends for a team that didn’t play any matches for two weeks prior to the regional tournament May 1 and 2.
“The week prior to spring break, we were scheduled to have two matches, but they got canceled,” Sailors head coach Kristyn Wykert said. “We had a two-week dry spell where we didn’t play any matches. So, we’ve just been doing a lot of hits and repetition, and, as for the mental side, we’re trying to give them confidence, saying, “You’ve made it to state for a reason; you’re not here by mistake.’”
While having the strokes is important, Wykert has put an emphasis on the mental aspect of tennis going into the state tournament. She believes that if the girls can stay confident, they will play their best tennis.
No. 1 singles: Mae Thorp, junior, vs. Camille Krammer, senior, University
Thorp is a two-time state runner-up but fell to Aspen senior Mary Williams in the finals of the regional tournament. Thorp won her playback to earn her spot at state. If Thorp advances to the tournament semifinal, she could face Williams again.
“Mary [Williams] was on her game, no denying it,” Wykert said. “She was hitting her shots. Unfortunately, Mae [Thorp] wasn’t as on. She’s hoping to stay a little more consistent and feel smarter with the shot selection. If she has her eyes set on winning state like she did at the beginning of the season, I have all the faith in her to take it this year.”
No. 2 singles: Lily Fox, senior, vs. Elle Richardson, freshman, University
Fox had her challenges at the beginning of the season playing tougher competition. The path to state wasn’t easy. After the first day of regional competition, Fox was the only Sailor not in the finals of her bracket. She won her match against Delta handily, 6-2, 6-2, to take bronze. But to secure a spot at state, Fox had to win an additional match against Paonia, and she did, 6-1, 6-3.
“In regionals, her goal was to make it to state,” Wykert said. “And after she lost to Aspen, I’ve never seen her so mentally strong in those last three matches she had to play. If she’s able to have a goal in mind in what she wants to accomplish, that’s going to go in her favor.”
No. 3 singles: Noelle Cerone, junior, vs. Alexis Gilio, sophomore, Dawson
Cerone played her way through a shoulder injury at regionals to earn her first-ever state berth. While consistency isn’t always a strong suit for Cerone, her ability to maintain composure and come back from behind works in her favor.
“I have to compliment her,” Wykert said. “Her mental game is so strong, and anytime you look at her, it looks like she’s confident. You’d never be able to tell she’d be down on the score.”
No. 1 doubles: Morgan Sauerbrey, junior, and Lauren Ehrlich, junior, vs. Victoria Joris, junior, and Eloise Shehan, sophomore, Dawson
This is the duo’s third year of playing doubles together and second in the No. 1 doubles position. Last year, Sauerbrey and Ehrlich were intimidated by playing at a higher level, but this year, they surprised themselves by winning the Western Slope Open Tournament in Grand Junction earlier this season, the highest placement of any Steamboat team. The two found their strengths playing closer to the net, forcing their opponents to scramble after their quick returns.
No. 2 doubles: Lauren Fullerton, freshman, and Liesel Wilkinson, freshman, vs. Hayley Wood, junior, and Hope Dannar, senior, University
After losing in the regional finals, Fullerton and Wilkinson redeemed themselves in the playback round to earn their spot at state. The freshmen duo didn’t expect to make it this far, but experience at the state level during their first year could pay dividends down the line.
No. 3 doubles: Soria Rabanal, junior, and Maddie Heydon, senior, vs. Jillian Hill, senior, and Megan Smolky, sophomore, Holy Family
Heydon made it to the state tournament with teammate Este Wilkinson last year, beating the ultimate state champion at a tournament earlier in the season before facing them again at state. But Heydon and Wilkinson got off to a slow start in the tournament, which led to their downfall. Heydon and her new partner, Soria Rabanal, went undefeated to win the Eaton Tournament against some of the top teams in the state in April. The duo hopes it can replicate that performance at state.
No. 4 doubles: Kara Stanhope, junior, and Katelyn Kline, senior, vs. Mia Gabriele, senior, and Anna Pitcock, senior, St. Mary’s
The consistency of Stanhope and Kline through the regional tournament was unmatched. They were the only players to not drop the opening set, capturing the regional title with a two-set sweep of Delta. Stanhope played soccer last year, coming to tennis practice for fun to learn the sport. She committed herself to tennis this year and complements Kline’s volley skills with her deep-court play. This is also Kline’s first year on the varsity tennis team.
“Those two together are an unstoppable force,” Wykert said. “During the regional tournament, Kara started playing around with placing the ball more. She started unlocking different levels of her game.”
The team is spending their practices tightening up shots and getting back into the groove of playing tennis consistently. As a team, the Sailors placed sixth last year, not filling all the possible qualifying positions.
This year, the Sailors hope to stand out as a team.
“Day one, we need to step up on that court and have a fast start,” Wykert said. “We’re looking to be top four this year.”
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