The Steamboat Springs boys tennis team has been the dominant force in Class 4A along the Western Slope for years. On Friday, with the opening round of the regional tournament, the Sailors aim to win their seventh straight regional championship and, for the fourth straight year, send the entire team to the state tennis tournament.
The top two singles players or doubles teams in each bracket will advance to the state tournament. And if the seedings hold, Steamboat will have a caravan heading to Pueblo next week.
"If our kids go out and play like they have all year, they shouldn't have a problem," Steamboat coach John Aragon said.
The Sailors will have the advantage of playing on their home courts -- the first time all season that they've held home-court advantage. Miscommunication in scheduling canceled the two meets Steamboat was supposed to host.
The Tennis Center at Steamboat Springs and The Ranch will host the two-day tournament that begins at 9 a.m. Friday. Singles matches will be at The Ranch, and doubles teams will play at the Tennis Center.
Consolation matches and the finals will be Saturday. All finals are at the Tennis Center.
The Ranch is allowing the high school teams to play on its courts free of charge.
Most of Steamboat's players have regional experience and have fared well in recent years. All except three members of this year's team advanced to the state tournament last season. The only players competing for first-time state spots are Walker Loetscher, a Battle Mountain junior playing at No. 1 singles for Steamboat because his school doesn't offer the sport, freshman Ramsey Bernard at No. 3 singles and sophomore Brian Aragon at No. 2 doubles. Last year, Aragon broke his arm before regionals and could not make the trip to the state tournament.
"It makes me want to do really well," Aragon said.
Loetscher is the only Steamboat player seeded lower than second. He is the third seed behind singles players from Cortez and Aspen. Steamboat did not face Cortez or regional opponent Montrose this season. Although Steamboat has more depth from No. 1 singles to No. 4 doubles, Montrose is a team that could threaten the Sailors' bid to seven-peat as regional champions.
"They have good No. 1 and No. 2 singles players," John Aragon said. "Their doubles teams are pretty good. It's not like one team has a lot of depth. Different teams have strengths in different areas."
Steamboat's regional opponents are Cortez, Montrose, Delta, Aspen, Cedaredge and Hotchkiss.
Players receiving top seeds were junior Taylor Reed (No. 2 singles), Bernard (No. 3 singles), seniors Jonathan Solomon and Patrick Ayres (No. 1 singles) and junior Brian Behrman and sophomore Dylan Roberts (No. 4 doubles).
Behrman and Reed are Moffat County students playing for Steamboat. Behrman and Roberts wound up fourth at state last year and are the only team still intact from last season.
"It worked out that way," Roberts said. "We wanted to stay together."
"We did so well last year," Behrman added.
Roberts and Behrman said they head into regionals this year knowing how well they have to play to advance.
The same goes for Steamboat's No. 2 doubles team of Aragon and Jon Reese, who, along with the No. 3 doubles team of Jesse Schaller and Nick Ludolph, are seeded second this weekend.
Before this season, Aragon and Reese hadn't even talked to each other, Aragon said, but Aragon's backcourt abilities paired with Reese at the net have allowed the duo to have a successful season.
Only doubles teams from Montrose are seeded ahead of the Steamboat teams.
Seedings are based on overall records, which aren't necessarily indicative of the Sailors' ability levels because they opted to play a difficult schedule to prepare them for their quest to win their seventh straight regional title and make a run at state.
"Regionals is a warm-up for state," Reese said. "But it wouldn't be good to be the ones that lose (the regional title)."
-- To reach Melinda Mawdsley call 871-4208 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org