Printed neatly on the state championship tennis brackets with state powers Kent Denver, Cheyenne Mountain and Mullen is the name Steamboat Springs, a perennial Western Slope power looking to be mentioned in the same breath as those other schools.
For the fourth straight season, all 11 Sailors qualified for the Class 4A State Tennis Tournament, which opens Thursday in Pueblo. But this season, more so than any other since the seniors have been involved in the high school program, Steamboat heads to state with a sense of confidence and optimism about its chances as a team.
"I think if they go down and really gel and play their best, they can compete and fight for points," Sailors coach John Aragon said. "There is some tough competition to face early, but if you want to win a state title, you need to beat some of these teams."
The coaching staff put together a regular season schedule that sent Steamboat to Grand Junction, Pueblo and Boulder to face quality 5A schools so the players would be prepared for the high level of play expected in Pueblo.
They are more prepared than in recent years, coach Don Toy said.
Steamboat's No. 1 singles player, Walker Loetscher of Vail, opens against Pat Riley of Evergreen. Riley defeated Loetscher earlier this season, 6-2, 7-5, but it was on clay and Aragon said Loetscher did not play very well.
Taylor Reed, Steamboat's No. 2 singles player from Craig, opens against Dustin McCurry of CaÃ±on City.
No. 3 Ramsey Bernard opens the state tournament against Jay Yazdgerdi of Pueblo Central. Although Bernard is a freshman, his previous tournament experience should help him in the higher-stakes atmosphere at state.
Perhaps no Steamboat team heads to the state tournament with higher expectations than the No. 1 doubles team of Patrick Ayres and Jonathan Solomon, the two seniors on the Sailors' squad. Both are state-tournament veterans ready for one more shot to finish among the elite.
Aragon said the pair has a chance to place very well. They open against Niwot's Brian Brooks and Luke Sheffield.
"We have something to prove," Solomon said.
Ayres and Solomon previously played singles, which enabled them to become better all-around players at the net and particularly on the baseline.
"For us, I'm going in with a lot more confidence that we have a chance to win," Ayres said.
The Sailors' No. 2 doubles team of Brian Aragon and Jon Reese opens against Dan Skubal and Nick Shaffer of Pueblo East.
Nick Ludolph and Jesse Schaller, the No. 3 doubles team, begin the state tournament against Jessey Kennell and Jordan Zander of Mesa Ridge.
Steamboat's No. 4 doubles team of Brian Behrman, of Craig, and Dylan Roberts opens against George Gallardo and Tyler Adams of Greeley Central.
Roberts and Behrman placed fourth at state last season at No. 4 doubles.
"If everyone plays to their potential, we'll have a good chance to do well," Ayres said.
The Class 4A State Tennis Tournament runs Thursday through Saturday at the Pueblo City Park in Pueblo. It is an outdoor venue with hardcourts.
The state brackets are 16-man brackets. The tournament is double elimination.