Tennis team looks to learn ropes early on

Younger players must step up after Sailors lost seven seniors

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— This Tuesday Jonathan Solomon and Patrick Ayers will step onto the courts at the Tennis Center at Steamboat Springs as teammates on the high school tennis team.

It's a complete turnaround from what the two were going through just a few days ago, when they were locked in an intense battle to earn one of the top three singles spots on the team.

"There are about five of us who are all at the same place," Sailor Matt Ramsey said. "It's been a pretty heated battle this year."

In the week before the regular season opens, head coach John Aragon pits the players on his team against one another is what is known as a challenge match. The players that show well can move up the ladder and earn one of the coveted singles spots. Only three players will walk away with one of those positions. The other players will then battle one another for positions on doubles teams.

The challenge is a part of the first few weeks of high school tennis and something that the players have just come to expect.

"It's just a game," Ayers said. "We go out there and play as hard as we can but once it's over we are all teammates again."

Ayers and Solomon are both sophomore players. However, they both traveled to the state tournament last year as freshmen. In fact, the two players were doubles partners.

"Singles is totally different," Solomon said. "There is no one else to rely on, and you don't have to count on someone else to make the shot. It's just you out there on the court."

Coach Aragon will be looking to young players like Solomon and Ayers to have solid seasons this year.

He will be without seven seniors from last year's team, including top singles player Rich Tifft, Joe Cutler and Carter Allen. The team also lost senior doubles players Jeff Aragon, David Upbin, Matt Mooney and Danny Martin.

"We are going to be a young team this year," Aragon said. "We are going to be a little inexperienced at the upper positions."

But that hasn't stopped Aragon or the team from setting high goals for the season. After winning the last four regional titles, the Steamboat players are not trying to hide the fact they want at least one more.

"It's to be expected, isn't it," assistant coach Don Toy said.

Aragon agrees.

The longtime head coach thinks his team will be in the race for a regional title once again this year. He is hoping the players will gain some confidence and learn the ropes during the early part of the season.

"Our schedule isn't quite as strong as it was last year, but there are still a lot of solid teams on it," Aragon said.

This year's team will be led by four senior players, including two-time state qualifiers Andrew Krueger and Ramsey. Christian Hogrefe and newcomer Ryan Zeeb close out the list of seniors on this year's team. Zeeb, who has been playing tennis since he was 8 years old, moved to Steamboat from South Dakota.

Behind those seniors are a host of younger players, including Solomon (who spent his summer at a tennis camp in Florida) and Ayers.

The team took part in challenge matches last week and will know the final lineup just a day before the start of the regular season.

The team will open with a good test Tuesday when it faces Niwot. Steamboat will also be pushed in early season contests against Kent Denver, Thompson Valley and in the Loveland Tournament.

The team will then face Eaglecrest before slipping into a schedule of Western Slope foes including Delta, Cedaredge, Hotchkiss and Aspen. The regular season will come to a close with a match against Evergreen in Aspen Sept. 23. The regional and state tournaments are slated for October.

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