Patrick Ayers and Jonathan Solomon view their rivalry for Steamboat Springs High School's No. 1 singles spot as a good thing.
Wednesday, they split a pair of matches as they competed for this season's top singles spot. Ayers won the first but Solomon won the second, forcing a final match Monday. Their close matches indicate that Steamboat's No. 2 singles player, whether it's Solomon or Ayers, will be a top-flight contributor, as well.
Having two strong candidates for the team's top spot is a welcome sign of improved depth from a year ago, coach John Aragon said.
The first day of school signals more of an end to the tennis season than a beginning. Many of the Sailors started frequenting the courts as soon as the snow melted in the spring and turned their focus into playing summer tournaments when the temperatures shot up.
August, September and October help bring the tennis season to an end, and every member of the Sailors team plans on ending his season in Pueblo at the state tournament. After all, the road to state goes through Steamboat Springs this season.
The Tennis Center at Steamboat Springs will play host to the regional competition, scheduled for Oct. 2-4. The top two individual finishers and the top two teams there will earn a trip to the state tournament.
Steamboat is shooting for its sixth straight regional title, and it will be a disappointment to all if it isn't obtained.
"I think it will be one of our best years in a long time," Ayers said of the team's potential for 2003. Aragon believes there is promise in this year's squad as well, despite the fact that Alex Griffing and newcomer Eric Haskins are the only seniors.
"John, Alex and Patrick are working like young men," Aragon said. "They are taking leadership roles and really working for points in practice. It has a positive influence on the younger members of the team."
The younger members, some of whom likely will be playing in the doubles slots, will need to perform well if Steamboat is to realize its goals. The team will square off with some of the state's top teams such as Kent Denver and Thompson Valley.
Sophomore Taylor Reed is one underclassman already aware of hard work's value.
Last year, as a freshman, he competed at the junior varsity level. This season, Reed made the jump to Steamboat's No. 3 singles slot after defeating Griffing for the spot.
"I played a lot of tennis this summer," Reed said. "Like six hours a day, and I took a couple lessons."
Last season, the Sailors made it to state as a team but every player lost his opening match. The Steamboat players understand that they need to take one match at a time, but by season's end, after practice matches and regular season duals, they figure to be ready for any challenge at state.
-- To reach Melinda Mawdsley call 871-4208 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org