Steamboat Springs Chris Reitz never played high school or college tennis when she was growing up.
But that hasn't stopped the Steamboat Springs tennis player, who is now in her 40s, from discovering the team aspect of the sport. She competes with an adult United States Tennis Association 3.5 women's team that started last summer in Steamboat.
"This is my second year on the team," Reitz said. "It's a little more competitive than your normal town league, and the team aspect makes it a lot more fun."
Currently there are three women's adult traveling teams in Steamboat that play in a format similar to the one normally found at the high school and college levels.
"They play tennis like this in Denver all year-round. Only they normally play once a week," tennis coach Don Toy said. "Here in Northwest Colorado the matches are a little more concentrated but this format is starting to catch on."
Toy's team is one of two Steamboat teams playing at the 3.5 level. Toy's Blue Team is 2-1 this season after picking up a pair of wins over Aspen two weeks ago. The team's only loss came to the other 3.5 Steamboat women's team, which is coached by Steamboat pro Carol Baily.
That team, created this year, has an impressive 3-0 record with wins over Aspen and the other Steamboat team.
"Things are going great," player Kathi Ayres said.
Ayres is one of 12 players on the undefeated Steamboat Red team, which is coached by Baily. "It's a good start, but we all know that we have some tough matches coming up."
The team format is nothing new for Ayres, who moved from Louisiana to Steamboat several years ago.
"That's how we played tennis back there," she said. "Everybody was a part of a team and that's just the way it was."
But that's not the way it has always been in Steamboat.
Up until three years ago, most players competed in leagues and tournaments as individuals.
The team format allows the athletes to play as part of a team unit. Some players will compete in singles while others will form pairs for doubles play.
In this format, the squad's two singles players and three doubles teams combine efforts.
The players compete the same way they would in a tournament, but at the end of the day their matches count in the team's final score.
The team can earn five points, one for each match.
Player Tibby Speare helped bring this format to the valley three years ago by starting a women's 4.0 team. Speare said it was welcomed enthusiastically by the players and has continued to grow.
"When was started three years ago we had to join the Aspen League," Speare said.
The Steamboat team was one of four in the mountain region and competed against two squads from Aspen and one from Crested Butte.
Since then the league has grown to six teams including the original four plus Summit County and Edwards. The number of women who want to play the team format in Steamboat has also grown with the addition of the Steamboat 3.5 teams.
"The response has been wonderful," Speare said. "It gives tennis players another avenue to play the game and it's a great way to get outside of Steamboat and find more competitive matches."
"It's definitely growing here," Toy said of adult women's teams. "It just gives players another way to experience the game of tennis."
He has 14 players on his team this year. Reitz said with the busy Steamboat summers it normally takes that many players to field a team. But if more than eight players show up for a single match, the team simply rotates its players in and out so that everybody gets a chance to play.
"You have to account for injuries and jobs," Speare said. "Normally we play two matches at a time, so most of the women on our team don't mind sitting one of those matches out."
The players said the new teams have opened the doors to more varied competition and improved their game.
They also seem to enjoy the social atmosphere that comes from traveling to other towns as a team.