Steamboat girls tennis team returns many, but needs more players

Steamboat Springs freshman tennis player Grace Brice in a match against Basalt at home in 2021.
Shelby Reardon/Steamboat Pilot & Today

The Steamboat Springs High School girls tennis team had essentially the entire team returning for the 2022 season, as most players were freshmen last spring. However, two injuries threaten the strength of this year’s roster. The 2021 No. 1 single player Evan Quinn recently broke her wrist, and Kayla O’Brien, who played on the No. 1 doubles team, broke her arm.

As a result, the team needs two more people to fill all the playing positions and is always open to taking in people with little to no experience.

The gaps in the lineup have allowed Kelsey Norland and Grace Brice to step up and battle for the No. 1 spot previously held by Quinn. Their first challenge match, which was intended to determine who takes which roster spot, was too close to call. It went to three sets and a tie breaker.

The pair will have to compete against each other again before the season opens on Thursday, March 10, at Durango.

Both are feeling the pressure, but Conway hopes to alleviate that. Expectations aren’t sky high for the sophomores, who will be facing some of the best players in the state in the No. 1 and No. 2 singles slots.

“The best thing I want for them is strong confidence when they play. If they win regionals, but I just want improvement throughout the year,” Conway said. “They can’t drive a car yet, so to sit there and say I want you to win regionals and state, that’s not fair.”

Both Norland and Brice missed state by one finishing spot last year, as they took third in regionals. If they stayed in those spots, perhaps they’d have a strong shot at state, but moving up in the team rankings makes that a bit more difficult.

Brice is part of the global studies program at Steamboat Mountain School, so she wasn’t sure if her month-long trip to Ecuador would prevent her from playing tennis. Since it won’t, she’s hoping to relish every moment on the court.

“I wasn’t expecting to be able to play, and now having the opportunity is really great,” Brice said. “Maybe getting to state would be really great.”

With Brice and Norland moving up, everyone will be playing one or two spots above where they played last year. The change is exciting, but intimidating for a few athletes.

Steamboat Springs freshman tennis player Kelsey Norland focuses on the ball in a match against Basalt at home last year.
Shelby Reardon / Steamboat Pilot & Today

“It’s the wide-eyed, ‘Oh my god, I’m playing one, oh my god, I’m playing two,'” Conway said. “There’s a lot of excitement and with it comes a lot of opportunities to teach and have them learn. That’s a big big part of it.”

Sophomore Amanda Dietrich and senior Liesel Wilkinson will combine as the No. 1 doubles pairing. Conway thinks they have potential to be a strong team this spring.

To help the girls team learn best, Conway brought in a couple female coaches that he hopes can communicate well with the girls when maybe he isn’t the most relatable voice.

Steamboat Springs sophomore Amanda Dietrich keeps her eye on the ball before making contact during a practice in 2021.
Shelby Reardon/Steamboat Pilot & Today

“I wanted to make sure we had two female coaches helping out,” Conway said. “I think gender-to-gender is a big deal for young women if there’s life problems or things like that it’ll probably be easier for them to talk Karen (Connel) or Meg (Tully).”

Conway and the group of assistant coaches are taking over for former coach Elliott Guin, but the team is extremely familiar with Conway and assistant Bill Krueger, so it hasn’t been a difficult transition.

“I loved Elliott last year, but I’ve been working a lot with Bill, and I think he’s a really good coach and has a lot to bring to the team,” said Norland.

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