Don’t say it out loud, but the Steamboat boys tennis team has potential |

Don’t say it out loud, but the Steamboat boys tennis team has potential

Steamboat Springs High School tennis player Gabe Gray lunges to reach the ball during a 2020 match at the Steamboat Tennis and Pickleball Center. Gray is the team captain this year, leading a talented group of Sailors tennis players. (Photo by Shelby Reardon)

Steamboat Springs High School boys tennis coach Bill Conway doesn’t want to use the word potential, deeming it a kiss of death. Whether he mutters it out loud or not, it’s there.

“I view the word ‘potential’ as a foul word in sports,” he said. “The thing I will say about this team is it’s the best work ethic I’ve ever seen on one of our teams.”

Conway, who is taking over the team after a year off, said this team is the most talented he’s seen in some time. The Sailors boys tennis team is returning most athletes from last year, and many have been in the Steamboat Tennis programs for years.

“It’s nice because 80% of this team has come up through our junior program, so they have been training year-round and doing those kinds of things,” Conway said. “It’s not teaching tennis; it’s teaching how to play tennis.”

Since Conway will be spending less time teaching fundamentals, he’ll spend more time teaching how to succeed at tennis. Even the freshmen, who are new to the varsity squad, are at least familiar with Conway and each other, so they’re in a great position to do well in their first year.

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The team has seen mild success over the past two seasons, with freshmen Gabe Gray and Xander Dalke qualifying for state as No. 2 doubles partners in 2019. Last year, No. 1 singles player Nash Whittington nearly qualified for state. As a senior, he’ll be hoping to get there this year in the same No. 1 slot.

“I want to make it to state this year. That’s my main goal right now,” Whittington said.

No matter who is aiming for state, Aspen will likely be Steamboat’s biggest barrier. The Skiers have year in and year out been the most competitive team in the region, pushing the Sailors to play their best.

After a couple of years of playing doubles, Gray is the No. 2 singles player and was named team captain.

“He’s vocal. He’s just one of those people who everyone listens to,” Whittington said.

Dalke said Gray is good at getting everyone to do what they’re supposed to do.

Dalke is fighting for the No. 3 singles spot, which is highly competitive. Whoever earns that will determine the doubles pairings.

“That’s also my goal is to make it to state,” he said. “I also want to play singles, and those might be mutually exclusive.”

Echoing what Conway said as a team strength, both Dalke and Whittington said what makes them good players is their work ethic.

Dalke thinks his consistency has improved across the board simply because of the amount of time he’s put into the sport over the years. As for what makes Whittington a calm and collected top singles player: “Practice would have to be the No. 1 thing,” he said.

Steamboat Boys Tennis Schedule

Aug. 19 - at Central Grand Junction

Aug. 20-21 - at Fruita Monument

Aug. 27 - at Loveland, 2nd

Sept. 9 - at Durango, Steamboat Springs 4, Durango 3 and Steamboat Springs 4, Central 3

Sept. 10-11 - at Grand Junction

Sept. 18 - vs. Rocky Mountain, L 7-0

Sept. 25 - at Aspen Triangular

Oct. 2 - vs. Kent Denver, Ponderosa

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