Sailors bound for state

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— With its mission accomplished in the regional finals, the Steamboat Springs tennis team looks to take the rest of the state down when it prepares for battle in the state championships from Thursday to Saturday in Pueblo.

The Sailors, who claimed their third straight regional championship last weekend, embarrassed the Indians of Montrose in five of seven championship matches Saturday at Mesa State College. Steamboat, which won region 8, finished the tournament with 71 points. Montrose was second with 62.

John Aragon, in his fourth year as Sailors coach, brings eight of his players to the state tournament who have experience in last year's competition.

Rich Tifft, who earned his shot at a state crown with a decisive victory over John Wickham, heads into the tournament as Steamboat's No. 1 singles player. Tifft won his championship match in regionals 6-2, 6-3.

John Aragon Jr., the team's No. 2 singles player, enters the tournament after a 7-5, 7-5 win over Charlie Burke. Aragon Jr. reached the championship match after he spanked Billy Innis 6-1, 6-2 with his Prince racket.

Joe Cutler won a three-set match over Dallas Britton in the No. 3 singles division to earn his own ticket to the big dance. Cutler defeated his opponent 6-4, 4-6, 6-1.

Aragon says his team will be pumped up when it travels to the Pueblo City Park Tennis Center on Thursday. He looks forward to a top-three finish in the state.

"We have great depth all the way down to four doubles," Aragon said. "I think if we get the right draw, that's going to be a big thing to see how we place."

Cheyenne Mountain and Kent Denver, which also qualified for state playoffs, were the winners of the 1999 championship in the 4A division. Aragon said those two teams, along with Mullen and Montrose, are the toughest teams in the playoffs.

Tifft, who is 19-1 on the season, said he hopes to produce another performance similar to his one in the regional championship match.

"I feel that I can win this tournament," Tifft said. "I also feel that I kind of have quite a bit of pressure right now, because it just feels like my year, and that I have a really good chance of winning it.

"I just need to take one match at a time."

Tifft looks forward to traveling with the rest of his team to the playoffs. Steamboat has all 11 of its players in the tournament.

"I feel really good that our whole team is going down to state," Tifft said. "There will be some good competition."

Walker Pruett, who teamed up with partner David Upbin in the No. 1 doubles division in Grand Junction last weekend, was confident about his team's abilities.

"I feel like this is our best chance to win state out of the four years that I've played," Pruett said. "We have a real solid team. We're going down there looking to win and we got a real good shot at it this year.

"As a senior this year, I'm really looking forward to bringing home a state title before I leave."

Steamboat sends its No. 2 doubles team of Jeff Aragon and Matt Mooney to the tournament. Mooney and Aragon defeated Muzzy Kolz and Zack Brown 6-1, 6-2 in the regional championship match.

Danny Martin and Brian Berge, the Sailors' No. 3 doubles team, have high hopes for the contest. Berge and Martin lost a hard-fought championship match to Matt Smith and Tyler White in the their own division.

"The competition's going to be really tough, but I think everyone on the team's playing really good tennis," Berge said. "And I think we have a real good chance if we're all playing well."

In the No. 4 doubles position is Andrew Krueger and Matt Ramsey, who defeated Taylor Day and Joe Crenshaw in a three-set match during the regional title game. Ramsey and Krueger eased through a preliminary match at regionals before teaming up to win the championship.

Aragon said his players would have to leave it all out on the court come Thursday.

"We've already beat some of the top teams in the state this season," Aragon said. "Hopefully, if we just stay focused and play hard, I think we can achieve that."

To reach Eric Rineer call 871-4229 or e-mail erineer@amigo.net

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