Expectations are high for this year's Steamboat Springs High School tennis team.
With defending state champion Ramsey Bernard and most of the top players from last year's roster returning, the Sailors seem destined to improve on the squad's third-place finish in the 2004 state championships.
"I don't feel any pressure to go back or to live up to what I did last year," Bernard said.
As a freshman, Bernard collected Steamboat Spring High School's first individual state tennis title in the No. 3 singles slot. This year, he will return to the court with more experience and is expected to fill the Sailors No. 2 slot behind the team's top-rated player, senior Walker Loetscher.
"I'm sure there is going to be a jump in the level of competition I see this year," Bernard said. "But I've been working hard this summer, and my level is also higher."
Coach John Aragon said Ber--nard is just a part of what is shaping up to be one of the strongest tennis teams in the history of the high school program. The team lost two seniors from last season, but there are plenty of players who want to fill those spots.
Even before the first match of the season, Aragon thinks the team is the favorite to win another regional title and should contend for the state crown in late October.
"A lot of things can happen, but this team has a lot of depth," Aragon said.
The coach predicted that Loetscher would fill the team's No. 1 singles slot and that Bernard would play at No. 2. However, the rest of the Sailors varsity lineup is unclear.
Seniors Jon Reese and Taylor Reed, juniors Brian Aragon and Brandon Shenfield and sophomore Ryan McNamara will contend for the No. 3 singles spot.
McNamara is a student at Vail Mountain School but will make the trip to Steamboat to play with the Sailors.
Loetscher, a student at Battle Mountain High School, made a similar move last year. Aragon said the two players plan to make the trip to Steamboat together for practices and matches, which should benefit the entire team.
The positioning of the doubles teams largely will depend on who gets the No. 3 singles slot.
However, the Sailors have sev-
eral successful doubles teams returning from last year's team.
Aragon thinks Jessie Schaller and Nick Ludolph will remain together this season. Last year, the pair combined to place third at the state tournament. Regional champions Brian Behr--man and Dillon Roberts also are returning.
Several junior varsity players who hope to move up to the varsity level this year also should bolster the Sailors.
Zach Epley, Andrew Riley, Brandon Shenfield and Zak Kosmicki could fit into the top lineup. The coach also will take a look at newcomers Gunde Schrock and Scott Peterson to determine how they might make the team stronger.
The team is so deep that instead of fielding varsity and junior varsity squads this season, Aragon will shift to a varsity 1 and varsity 2 system.
Both teams will play a varsity schedule during the season so that all players can continue to improve and gain varsity experience.
Aragon said a lot of Denver-area schools field more than one varsity team, which allows more players to excel at a faster pace.
Excelling at a higher level is one of the main goals of this year's team. To make sure that happens, Aragon has loaded the Sailors' schedule with top-level opponents.
The squad will face Boulder, Grand Junction, Greeley West, Evergreen and Alexander Daw--son.
The Sailors' goal is to get back to the state tournament and contend for a title.
"My goal is to get a medal at the state tournament," Bernard said. "As a team, I think we should be in the top two."