High school tennis players Patrick Ayres and Kelli Parnell have discovered a winning combination.
The two have teamed up for tournaments twice in the past year and a half and won both times. Last week, the pair topped the 16-year-old mixed division at the Taco Bell Western Open, which ran July 22-25 in Grand Junction and featured a field of more than 800 players from across the state.
"Me and Kelli just want to play," Ayres said. "So we heard about this tournament and decided to give it a shot."
The pair defeated Holly Johnson of Colorado Springs and Hunter Hall of Greeley 6-0, 4-6 and 6-2.
"We won the first set pretty easily," Parnell said. "But we let up a lot in the second and it showed."
Parnell said she never thought the duo would lose in the mixed doubles championships, but admits that things got closer than either she or Ayres would have liked.
But winning a title at the tournament wasn't the best part of the week, Ayres said. The Steamboat Springs High School junior said the opportunity to play a large number of matches in a short period of time was worth the drive to Grand Junction.
"I played 15 matches in four days," Ayres said. "It was a great way to get ready for the high school season, which is coming up real fast."
Not to mention that Ayres managed to pocket a couple of titles while gaining experience on the court.
In addition to winning his age division in the mixed division, he also topped the 16-and-under division in singles play by defeating Durango's Alex Umbhau.
Ayres lost the 18-and-under consolation finals to Grand Junction's Nick Provenza.
Ayres said he spent most of the summer preparing for the high school season with Parnell, also a Steamboat junior. But the pair will not be able to team up at the high school level because he plays the No.2 position for the boys team and Parnell plays the No.2 slot for the girls.
But that hasn't stopped them from working on their game together in the off-season.
"Me and Kelli hit the ball a lot," Ayres said. "We make a pretty good team."
The players agree that last week's tournament was a boost to their summer training program.
"It was a great learning experience," Parnell said. "I got to play 12 matches in the heat."
Parnell said she also took a lot away from a semi-final loss to Dakota Ridge's Renee Nuccio -- one of the top-rated players in the state.
"I took her to three sets before losing, which was as good as a win to me," Parnell said. "She's very good and it was a great match."
While Parnell was pleased with the way she performed against Nuccio, she was disappointed with her showing in the 16-and-under division.
She said she lost because she made too many mistakes in the match.
Still, the showing at the Taco Bell Open got both players excited for the start of the high school season.
Ayres will play in just a few weeks, but Parnell will have to wait until spring to get back into the high school game.
"I think I'm going to run cross country this fall, but tennis is my game," Parnell said.
She wants to play at the college level someday and plans to focus on tennis throughout the year. Ayres also would like to pursue his tennis career at the college level, but has his sights set on returning to the state tournament this fall.
"I didn't like losing in the first round of state last year," he said. "I want to get back and I want to do better."
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