Steamboat Springs After a team meeting Tuesday night, Steamboat Springs tennis coach John Aragon said the Sailors' goals for the regional tournament in Montrose on Friday and Saturday are clearly defined.
"The team goal is obviously to be regional champs and qualify all 11 players for state," Aragon said. "I think at the state tournament we could represent the Western Slope well."
Aragon has to like his chances. His team finished 8-2 in the regular season, with its only losses coming against last year's Class 4A state runner-up, Kent Denver, and Boulder, which finished third in Class 5A a year ago.
"Kent is favored to win it again in 4A, and Boulder is in the top three in 5A," Aragon said. "I'd really like to play both of them again with the way we're playing."
From top to bottom, the Sailors have been especially strong in their past five tournaments.
Steamboat's top three singles players - Andrew Hoing, Ramsey Bernard and Jordan Bernard - are a combined 21-6. The top two doubles teams of Brian Aragon and Brian Burger and Jesse Schaller and Dylan Roberts are a combined 12-0. The No. 3 doubles team (Matt Gadbois and Andrew Riley) and No. 4 doubles team (Charlie Smith and Jeff Lambart) are 12-6.
Considering the Sailors came into the season with only four returning starters from last year's team - which placed fourth at state - Aragon said he was pleased with the way the team has progressed and bonded.
"The young guys have really responded to these upperclassmen in practice," Aragon said. "They fight hard in competing with them. They're trying to please the upperclassmen, and in turn, the upperclassmen are recognizing it."
Despite the regular-season success, Aragon said Friday marks the beginning of a new season.
"We've been working hard and trying to stay focused," he said. "I know physically we're ready, but hopefully we'll be ready mentally."
Cortez, Aspen, Montrose and Hotchkiss round out the Sailors' region. Aragon said Montrose and Aspen figure to be the Sailors' toughest competition. Steamboat beat Montrose, 6-1, and Aspen, 5-2, earlier in the year.
Going into the regional tournament as the clear favorites, Aragon said he has talked with the team about not looking ahead to the state tournament in Pueblo. That tournament begins Oct. 12.
"I told our kids the first round you have to be prepared to play. You can't take anyone lightly," he said. "Ability-wise we can do it, but now they are going to have to go out there and work hard and earn the berth to state."
In regionals, the top two individuals and top two teams in each event earn births to state. With a realistic chance to qualify all 11 players, Aragon said he is excited to see what transpires Friday and Saturday.
"We need to stay focused, go work hard and make good things happen," he said.
- To reach Luke Graham, call 871-4229 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org