Juniors shine in open

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Tennis instructor John Aragon was thrilled when 16 players from his junior academy at The Tennis Center at Steamboat Springs decided to play in the Taco Bell Western Slope Open tennis tournament earlier this month.

He was amazed when 14 of those 16 players advanced to the semifinals of the tournament, which was held at six venues in Grand Junction from July 19 to 23. Several players placed.

"This was a very positive tennis tournament for our program," Aragon said. "We took a lot of young players, and it was a great experience for all of them."

The tournament is one of the largest of its kind anywhere and attracts top adult and junior players from across Colorado and the western United States. This year, the event drew 168 juniors and a total of 366 players, some of them coming from as far as Texas and Ohio.

Several upcoming juniors from The Tennis Center at Steamboat Springs junior academy collected top results at the event.

Steamboat Springs High School standout Breanne Murray, who placed second in the state high school championships last May, led the pack with a first-place showing in the girls 18-and-under singles division. She was also first in the girls 16-and-under singles class.

Other top finishes came from Shelby Reed, who was second in the girls 14-and-under singles division. The top junior teamed up with Molly Weiss to win the 16-and-under doubles title and Brett Gordon to win the 14-and-under mixed doubles title.

It was one of two doubles titles for Gordon, who also won the 14-and-under boys double title with partner Jeff Lambart. Weiss topped the 16-and-under mixed doubles division along with partner Brian Aragon. Steamboat's Christi Valicenti won the consolation title in the 12-and-under singles division. Christi and Zach Valicenti played in the child-parent divisions with their mother, Marci. Christi and Marci were runners-up in the consolation brackets.

Aragon said it was one of the most impressive showings for a group from Steamboat Springs since he started teaching the junior academies in Steamboat. He thinks the number of tennis players who attended the tournament is a reflection of growth of junior tennis in Steamboat.

This summer, the junior academy has grown to more the 100 players compared with about 75 players at this time last season. He said the weekly tennis camps, which typically get an average of eight players, have drawn close to 17 players each week.

"They've all been full this summer," Aragon said. "We are now in a position where we have to turn kids away."

Aragon thinks the surge in junior tennis is the result of the Steamboat area's growing population and the recent success of the high school programs. Steamboat has four players at the college level and one who recently graduated.

"I think the college players are great role models for some of our younger players," Aragon said. "They see Rich Tifft and (son) John Aragon playing in college, and they want to do it, too."

Whatever the reason, Aragon said he is happy to see the growth and success in his junior programs at the Tennis Center. He is hoping that those players will continue to fill the rosters of the high school teams for years to come.

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