Steamboat Springs Sometimes a picture is worth more than words, and when the nine tennis players and two coaches lined up behind the dozens of trophies, medals and plaques won during the past year, their smiles said it all.
"These kids have been working for four years hard," Team Steamboat coach John Aragon said.
Team Steamboat is made up of youths mostly between the ages of 11 and 13 who practice and play with Aragon and fellow coach Don Toy at the Tennis Center. Aragon said the young players practice twice a week for an hour and a half but take on extra conditioning and matches on their own time.
"They are dedicated kids," Aragon said. "They practice with a purpose."
He believes the kids have represented both the Tennis Center and Steamboat well in tournaments all over the western half of the United States so far this year.
The countless hours spent practicing, traveling and competing have been worth it, judging by responses from players and coaches alike.
"The kids are playing at a high level right now," Aragon said. "These parents are committed to seeing these kids succeed in tennis."
There's no question Team Steamboat is doing well with little signs of slowing down.
Breanne Murray, Ramsey Bernard, Kristin Toy, Jesse Schaller and Molly Weiss, all at 13, represent the oldest members of Team Steamboat.
Murray has picked up a load of trophies for high finishes in roughly six tournaments this year, including a first-place finish at the Boulder Tournament in the 14-year-old division. She, like all who play, had to deal with a birthday, which forced her to move up a division this summer.
Bernard was a member of the 2001-2002 Colorado Tennis Association's Team Colorado Elite 12's Juniors Team, picking up two first-place finishes in local tournaments, along with several top finishes in other competitions around the state.
Toy also fared well in local tournaments, both as a singles and doubles player. She placed second in local mixed-double tournaments.
Schaller took first in his age division of the Steamboat City Junior Tennis Championships and fifth at the Vail Valley Junior Open.
Weiss, as a 12-year-old, was also one of the top-ranked players in Colorado. She took top honors in several Front Range tournaments and at a tournament in Grand Junction this year.
Lisa Floyd, 12, and Alexandra Leatu, 11, recently returned from the Great Pumpkin Sectionals in Las Vegas. These two represented Steamboat in the Intermountain Tournament, which consisted of competitors from Colorado, as well as states such as Nevada, Utah and Idaho.
Floyd and Leatu picked up a couple match wins, but more importantly, they gained valuable experience in playing some of the best young talent in the western half of the country.
"It was good to see some girls I didn't know," Floyd said.
Oftentimes, she, along with the other members of Team Steamboat, come across the same competition tournament after tournament in Colorado.
That wasn't the case in Las Vegas.
Leatu, a fifth-grader, said she picked up one lesson that can carry over for the remainder of her tennis playing days.
"I learned that you shouldn't be scared," she said. "Sometimes when you know you can beat someone, you just have to."
Both Floyd and Leatu have enjoyed plenty of success in Colorado. Floyd won the Vail Valley Junior Open, while taking second at the Bookcliff Junior Open and the Highlands Ranch Junior Showdown.
Leatu won the Meadow Creek Junior Satellite tournament and the Matt Marker tournament in Littleton. She also finished second at the Denver City Open.
While Floyd and Leatu are among the youngest members of Team Steamboat, they aren't the only pre-teens that have been successful this year.
Jordan Bernard and David Evans, both 11, also started taking their tennis to the road.
Bernard has picked up some singles titles in the past, but perhaps the greatest thing about having his older brother Ramsey involved in tennis is that the two can be partners.
The Bernard brothers took third in 14 doubles at the Hensel-Phelps Jr. Open,
but the youngest Bernard said he isn't sure if he will ever be able to beat his brother in singles play.
Evans, a recent addition to Team Steamboat, moved to Colorado from Missouri in July, but he isn't behind with regard to tournament experience. While in Missouri, Evans was a finalist in five singles and doubles tournaments.
Evans said he came to the clinics put on by Aragon and Toy on Monday and Wednesday evenings and enjoyed working with the coaches and playing with the other kids so he joined on.
Aragon said, though Kelli Parnell and Kim Heckbert were members of the high school tennis team, both also participated in offseason tournaments. Heckbert and Parnell are back this season after qualifying for state last year in the No. 2 and No. 3 single slots, respectively, but neither was satisfied with her play and has worked hard to get better.
"I think I've improved," Parnell said. "I'm so excited for the high school season."
Aragon is excited about the potential for the high school programs as well. He said the current level of youth tennis is as high as it's ever been. He said about 65 kids are involved in youth programs in Steamboat, with Team Steamboat being among the best of the group.
In fact, adults have no problem facing off against these young kids. Some of the pre-teens or early teen-agers can hold their own on the hard courts.
"We're working with advanced players," Aragon said. "The high school program will really be beefing up."