John F. Russell: Teamwork means more than titles

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For some, the state high school tennis championships are about titles.

But this week in Pueblo, the Steamboat Springs High School tennis team proved that the championships are about friendship, teamwork and respect.

It's about cheering for your teammates no matter what happened on the court in your last match. It's about testing your skill against the top players from across the state. And yes, for a few Sailors, it's about bringing home a state title.

Unfortunately, Steamboat will not bring home any titles this year. By the time Friday's matches had finished, the Sailors had all been eliminated from Saturday's championships.

It was pretty disappointing for some of the players, but it's hard to feel sorry for yourself when you have nine teammates there to cheer you up.

Although some players come to the state tournament for personal achievement, that's not the case with Steamboat's team.

This year, an unlikely group of volleyball setters and Alpine skiers joined tennis players to form the Steamboat team.

They are polite and easy-going off the court, but they are always competitive when they step onto the court for a match.

It's a group of inexperienced seniors, a junior that came within one match of a state title last season and two very popular coaches. And it's a formula that has bred a unique enthusiasm among the players.

This year, the team has had to deal with the death of a teammate in the off-season, which has left a hole its members' hearts. It's not unusual for this group to tell you that they are playing for Adele.

Of course, whenever a player or team qualifies to compete in a state championship, there are expectations for performance. But this group of girls has never lost sight of the bigger picture or the memories they created this week in Pueblo.

Sure, they traveled to Pueblo to play tennis, but it's easy to see that they are friends off the court, as well, and that they push each other on the court.

The past few years, under the guidance of coaches John Aragon and Don Toy, this program has proven it belongs with the best in the state.

There was a time when tennis powerhouses such as Mullen, Cheyenne Mountain and Kent Denver could look past Steamboat Springs -- but not anymore.

Next year, new players will be added to the mix to replace a few departing seniors, but I would be surprised if the team's philosophy will change. It's a formula that works, and I'm sure will bring a state title to Steamboat Springs in the near future.

But a title would do little to improve this team, which continues to be a role model of teamwork and sportsmanship year after year.

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