Steamboat Springs John Aragon and Rich Tifft formed a friendship in the hallways of Steamboat Springs High School when they were freshmen.
Today, that friendship has continued to grow on the campus of Mesa State College in Grand Junction, where both Steamboat graduates are now members of the Mavericks tennis team.
"Those guys are the workhorses of our team," first-year Mesa State coach Dave Elliott said.
Aragon, a junior, is Mesa State's No. 1 singles player, and Tifft, a sophomore, is playing in the No. 3 slot.
"We've always been real close," Tifft said. "We were teammates in high school, and he was a big reason why I decided to go to Mesa State."
In high school, the two players were stars on the Sailors' boys team. Tifft was a four-time regional champion and a three-time state qualifier. He was the Sailors' No.1 singles player his sophomore, junior and senior years.
Aragon played varsity tennis in Steamboat for four years. He was all conference and placed third his senior year in the No. 2 singles spot for the Sailors.
"We grew up together in Steamboat," Aragon said. "We have always been good friends, and it's great to have him on my team."
The two Steamboat graduates have become rising stars in Mesa State's quickly improving men's tennis program.
Will Roth, of CaÃ±on City, is the team's only senior player, and Aragon is the only junior on the team. The squad's remaining roster is a patchwork of sophomore and freshman players from Colorado, Wyoming and Arizona.
Ultimately, the former Sailor players would like to see the Mavericks sitting atop the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference. But for now, they are happy to see the team's steady improvement.
This season the Mavericks have posted a 5-5 record and are 2-2 in the RMAC. The team's most impressive win came against Northern Colorado on March 6 in a nonleague contest.
"It was the first time we've beat them," Aragon said. "It was a big win for this team and a big win for me personally." Aragon lived in the Greeley area before his family moved to Steamboat Springs several years ago. He said he knew a lot of the players who are now playing for the UNC, which made the win more rewarding.
Aragon is in his first year as the Mavericks' No.1 singles player. He didn't set any lofty expectations at the start of the season and was only hoping to finish with a .500 record.
Elliott said the junior has surpassed his expectations and has become a team leader in the process.
"I've still got a lot to learn, but I'm getting there," Aragon said. "Overall, the level of play has been a lot higher this year."
Aragon is 8-6 this season with five matches remaining against tough RMAC opponents.
Tifft, who was the top-ranked player in Colorado when he was in the 16-and-younger class, has had to battle shoulder problems since his senior year in high school. These days, he can only serve underhand, and must rely on other aspects of his game to win matches.
His coach questioned Tifft's ability when he came to the team last fall. But Tifft put an end to those doubts in challenge matches.
"If he didn't have shoulder problems, there is no doubt he could be playing No. 1 or No.2 here. Maybe even at a Division I school," Elliott said. "We are just lucky to have him."
As a team, the Mavericks are hoping to advance to the regional level for the first time in recent memory. However, if the team wants to advance, it will need a strong finish at the RMAC Championships on April 23 to 25 in Grand Junction.
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