Sailors tennis hopes for fast start at state championships

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Keegan Burger returns a volley during practice inside the Tennis Center at Steamboat Springs on Tuesday afternoon. Burger and 10 other teammates are headed to Pueblo on Thursday for the opening round of the Boys State 4A Tennis Championships.

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Steamboat Springs senior Ramsey Bernard works on his swing during practice Tuesday inside the Tennis Center at Steamboat Springs. Bernard, who won a state title in 2004 at No. 3 singles, is hoping for a good showing this season at No. 1 singles.

Opening round matches

(Sailors vs. opponent)

No.1 Singles: Ramsey Bernard vs. J.J. Shpall (Kent Denver)

No. 3 Singles: Jeff Lambart vs. Phil Milspaugh (Silver Creek)

No. 1 doubles: Charlie Smith/Alex Gibbs vs. Jake Rioderhoff/Andrew Kim (CS Christian)

No. 2 doubles: Keegan Burger/Jack Burger vs. Rick McKinney/J. Naylor (Pueblo County)

No. 3 doubles: Ben Paley/ Zac Valicenti vs. Nathan West/Lucas Wingfield (Greeley Central)

No. 4 doubles: Mirko Esparmer/Vladen Chase vs. Kody May/Ryan Martinez (Pueblo Central)

— The state titles will be decided Saturday, but the members of the Steamboat Springs High School tennis team know the most important matches will be played Thursday.

"Our goal is to get six spots through the first round," Steamboat Springs coach John Aragon said. "The opening round is the most important round of the week. If you don't win the first match, there is no way to win a state title."

Aragon also knows that the odds of getting pulled back into the tournament after the second round are much better than losing in the first round. The only way to get a second chance at state is to have your opponent advance to the finals.

Ten of Steamboat's 11 players are scheduled to play when the Boys State 4A Tennis Championships open Thursday morning at Pueblo City Park.

Leading the way in the singles brackets will be a pair of Sailors with state experience.

Senior Ramsey Bernard, 10-0 this season, will represent the Sailors at No. 1 singles. This will be Bernard's fourth trip to the state tournament. He won a state title as a freshman in 2004 at No. 3 singles. Last year Bernard finished second after losing to Cheyenne Mountain's Brad Young in the finals at No. 2 singles.

"I just want to go there and do the best I can," Ramsey said. "I think experience is good. You know what to expect when you get there. I just want to serve well and do my best every match."

Bernard will face a Kent Denver player in the first round. Unfortunately, when the two teams met two weeks ago, his opponent, J.J. Shpall, was a no-show.

"It would have been nice to have seen him," Bernard said. "Then I would know what to expect."

Sophomore Jeff Lambart is making his second trip to state and will represent the Sailors at No. 3 singles. Last year Lambart was teamed with Charlie Smith at the No. 4 doubles slot.

This year Smith and doubles partner Alex Gibbs will open up against a team from Colorado Springs Christian School - a team the pair hasn't seen this season - at No. 1 doubles.

"It's hard because you try to overestimate them, or you end up underestimating them. It's just better if you know who you are playing," Gibbs said. "All we can do is just get ready and prepare to win. We want to win at all costs."

Doubling up

All four Sailors doubles teams will be playing in Pueblo after making the cut last weekend in Montrose.

The players were part of a dominating performance as Steamboat collected its 10th straight regional title in a strong Western Slope field that included teams from Aspen and Montrose.

"We got a pretty good draw," Smith said. "If we play at the top of our game we should see Kent Denver in the semifinal match."

Keegan and Jack Burger will fill the No. 2 doubles position, Ben Paley and Zac Valicenti will fill the No. 3 position, and Mirko Esparmer and Vladen Chase will play at No. 4 doubles.

Aragon said most of Steamboat's doubles teams are young, but the players say the lack of experience will not hold them back.

"It's going to be tough competition," Chase said. "We are nervous, but the pressure is going to be on the other teams because we are new to it. The other teams have been there once or twice, so they are going to think that we are a pushover, and they will have to prove it."

Aragon said the team's heart and talent will make up for its lack of experience.

"We went to the regional tournament and played 11 deep," Aragon said. "We're only going to have 10 at state, but we have to maintain that same attitude."

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