The benefits of playing some of the top teams and players in the state will be visible as the Steamboat Springs boys tennis team heads into the home stretch of its regular season.
Saturday, Steamboat rolled through Hotchkiss and Cedaredge in less than two hours, beating Hotchkiss 7-0 and Cedaredge 7-0. The Bulldogs and Bruins are regional opponents that the Sailors will see again Oct. 2-4.
Through the earlier part of the schedule, Steamboat traveled to the Front Range to play Kent Denver and Thompson Valley, before heading to Grand Junction to compete in the 18-team Western Slope Tournament.
As a team, the Sailors haven't won as many matches as they had hoped, but the boys have improved each week and have matured as players, coach John Aragon said.
"We've played the toughest teams in the state," he said. "Playing that level of tennis early has helped build confidence. And in the games they have lost, they were in them and playing well."
Aragon said he has stressed the importance of setting up a point and finishing it, and he is starting to see the Sailors do that in practice and in matches.
While Saturday's competition wasn't at the level of previous opponents, the duals against Cedaredge and Hotchkiss were the first home matches of the year for Steamboat, and the Sailors didn't disappoint on familiar courts.
Every Steamboat singles player and doubles team won its matches Saturday. The freshman duo of Brian Aragon and Jesse Speare-Schaller continues to perform well as the No. 3 doubles team, despite limited experience as doubles players and varsity members.
"We were singles players until about six months before the season," Aragon said. "We're getting used to what the other is thinking."
In dual matches, Aragon and Speare-Schaller are 7-1 this season.
Jonathan Solomon, Patrick Ayres and Taylor Reed continue to play well in Steamboat's singles slots. All three went 2-0 on Saturday, and while Steamboat played at home, the Tennis Center at Steamboat Springs isn't the home surface for Reed and No. 4 doubles player Brian Behrman.
Reed and Behrman are both from Moffat County and grew up playing on hard courts in Craig. The tennis community in Moffat County is not large, and the high school doesn't have a team, so Reed's mother drives her son and Behrman to practice in Steamboat.
Reed and Behrman played on the junior varsity team last season before moving up this year. Reed jumped all the way from JV to No. 3 singles.
"I wanted to play singles," Reed said.
Originally, the Sailors were supposed to return to their own courts for the regional competition Oct. 2-4, but the state moved the three-day event to Aspen. Steamboat will host regionals next year. A player must finish first or second at regionals to advance to the state tournament in Pueblo.
Steamboat will have one final competition at home on Saturday. Steamboat hosts Aspen at 9 a.m. and Evergreen at 11 a.m. at the Tennis Center. Aspen is a regional opponent, and Aragon said Saturday's matches against both the Skiers and Cougars will be competitive ones for his players.
Spectators are welcome to attend.
-- To reach Melinda Mawdsley call 871-4208 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org