Steamboat in cruise control

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Apparently uninterested in adding the element of suspense to the regional tennis tournament, the Steamboat Springs boys tennis team won all eight of its matches Friday in dominating fashion.

Steamboat also took a commanding lead in the team race after the first day, scoring 62 points. Montrose is second with 49, and Aspen is third with 38.

All three of the Sailors' singles players and all four doubles teams are in today's finals at the Tennis Center at Steamboat Springs with a great chance at advancing to next week's Class 4A State Tennis Tournament.

"We played very well (Friday)," coach John Aragon said.

Between junior Walker Loetscher's two matches -- as a No. 3 seed, he did not receive a bye in No. 1 singles -- and the other six matches the Sailors played Friday, they lost a combined 12 games and won 96.

Coach Don Toy said several Steamboat players looked better Friday than they had in any previous match this season, which bodes well for the Sailors' bid to win the regional championship for the seventh straight time today.

Loetscher will play Montezuma-Cortez's Seth Hollar in the No. 1 singles final. Junior Taylor Reed will play James Lujan of Cortez in the No. 2 singles final. Freshman Ramsey Bernard will play Montrose's Nick Webb, who upset the No. 2 and 3 seeds to make it to the No. 3 singles final.

The singles and No. 2 doubles finals will begin at 10:30 a.m. today at the Tennis Center. All other finals will begin when courts become available. The consolation matches will be at The Ranch at Steamboat.

Steamboat's No. 1 doubles team of seniors Jonathan Solomon and Patrick Ayres will face Aspen's Aaron Cummins and Andy MacCracken. The No. 2 doubles team of junior Jon Reese and sophomore Brian Aragon will play Montrose's Sean Gueck and Austin Manak. The No. 3 doubles team of junior Nick Ludolph and sophomore Jesse Schaller will face Montrose's Drew Shrum and Evan Wieland. The No. 4 doubles team of junior Brian Behrman and sophomore Dylan Roberts will face Montrose's Chance Jacob and Sterling Parks.

Loetscher started things off for Steamboat on Friday, defeating Sean Lee of Hotchkiss, 6-1, 6-0. Lee struggled to return Loetscher's serve and couldn't match net shots or ground strokes with the junior. Nearly all the points Lee scored were off unforced errors from Loetscher.

Despite this being his first year of high school tennis, Loetscher, a left-handed player, is eyeing a trip to state and wants to perform well once he gets there.

The junior from Battle Mountain joined the Steamboat program this year because his school doesn't offer the sport. He spent his freshman and sophomore years playing tournaments exclusively but is enjoying his first season as part of a prep team.

"The guys on the team are great," Loetscher said. "There is definitely a different atmosphere in high school tennis."

During the regular season, Loetscher drove up from the Vail area once or twice a week for practice and either had his parents drive him or met the team halfway between Steamboat and the destination while going to tournaments.

Loetscher won his semifinal match against Montrose's Brett Plankis, 6-1, 6-2, setting up his match against Hollar.

Reed defeated Aspen's Glen Engleman, 6-1, 6-1, after struggling against him two weeks ago before winning in three sets.

Ludolph and Schaller also performed much better in their rematch against Aspen's duo of Max Redmond and Tim Cashel, winning, 6-1, 6-2.

Schaller said Aragon challenged the No. 3 doubles team to step up their play Friday.

"He said, 'See if you can go without losing a game,'" Schaller said.

At No. 1 doubles, Ayres and Solomon, who have lost once all season, needed less than 30 minutes to defeat James and Ken Nunez of Montrose, 6-0, 6-1.

At No. 2 doubles, Brian Aragon and Reese also won easily, defeating Aspen's Chris Taylor and Jason Wilson, 6-0, 6-1.

At No. 4 doubles, Roberts and Behrman, who placed fourth at state last year, made quick work of Aspen's Remy Pearlstone and AJ Smollen, 6-0, 6-0.

Bernard was the final player on the court for Steamboat on Friday. With the doubles having just wrapped up at the Tennis Center, many of the Sailors were packing up to go watch Bernard's match at The Ranch. Just as John Aragon was leaving, Ayres arrived to tell everyone the match was over.

Bernard defeated Cedaredge's Brandon Baker, 6-1, 6-0.

The finals today will determine who represents the Western Slope at the state tournament next week. The top two in each bracket will advance, and Steamboat is poised to send its entire team for the fourth straight season.

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