Title hopes alive

Sailors remain strong at state tennis championships

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— The competition threw spin serves, rocket serves and anything else it had at Steamboat Springs senior Ramsey Bernard on Day 1 of the 2007 4A Boys State Tennis Championships.

But the Sailors' No. 1 singles player simply used his tennis racket to return it all with the confidence of a champion.

"Basically that's all I was focused on when he was serving," Bernard said after beating Jonathan Strickland in the quarterfinals. "I thought I could beat him on everything from the baseline if I could just get the serve back."

Bernard managed to get the serve back against the Rock Canyon senior en route to winning the quarterfinal match 6-3, 6-2.

But Bernard said that wasn't even his toughest match.

In one of the toughest draws of the tournament, he went head to head with Kent Denver's J.J. Shpall in the first round.

The two elite players battled in a close match that will rival any scheduled to take place in Saturday's championship round. Bernard held serve to win the first set 7-6 (1) and then grabbed the momentum in the second set by breaking Shpall for the first time in the contest to take a 2-1 lead. Bernard went on to win the set 6-1 to advance.

"It was the toughest first-round match I've ever had at state," Bernard said. "It was a tough draw, an unlucky draw I guess - but I tried not to look at it that way."

That victory advanced Bernard to the second round, where he ran into the hard-hitting senior from Rock Canyon.

Bernard and Strickland traded big-time serves that neither player could return. But as the match progressed, Bernard found a way to return Strickland's rockets and was able to gain an advantage from the baseline.

"His serve made it hard to break him," Bernard said. "I knew I just had to keep serving it big and play my game. If I could get his serve back then I just kept the ball to his backhand, and it worked."

Steamboat also had a golden opportunity to move all four of its doubles teams into the semifinals after first-round wins, but the quarterfinals were not kind to the Sailors.

The only team advancing is Steamboat's No. 1 doubles team of Charlie Smith and Alex Gibbs.

The duo defeated Colorado Springs Christian (6-0, 6-3) and then battled back from a first-set loss to D'Evelyn to win the quarterfinal match, 4-6, 6-4, 6-4.

"We new we had to win," Gibbs said. "We knew the winner was going to play Kent Denver, so our chances of getting pulled back in were not very good."

Smith said he almost gave up hope of winning the match in the second set.

"I thought we were done in the second because Gibbs got a little mad," Smith said. "When he gets mad, it doesn't go too good for us."

That's when Smith, one of three players with state experience on the young Steamboat team, reminded his teammate what was at stake.

"I learned not to lose," Smith said about getting knocked out in the first round last year. "I'm never going to lose in the first round again, and I didn't want to lose today."

But some of the other Steamboat players learned that sometimes not wanting to lose just isn't enough.

Steamboat's No. 2, No. 3 and No. 4 doubles teams left it on the court Thursday but failed to come away with quarterfinal wins.

The No. 2 team of Keegan and Jack Burger defeated Pueblo County in the opening round, 6-2, 6-3. But the team couldn't get past Greeley West, losing 7-5, 7-6 (10).

The story was much the same for Steamboat's No.4 doubles team of Mirko Erspamer and Vladen Chase. That team defeated Pueblo Central in the opening round and then took Fossil Ridge to three sets before losing, 1-6, 6-2, 2-6.

The Sailor's No. 3 doubles team of Ben Paley and Zac Valicenti also picked up a first-round victory against Greeley Central, 6-4, 6-0. But the team drew Kent Denver in the second and lost, 6-1, 6-0.

"We are a young team ,and all of our players left it on the court," coach John Aragon said. "I can't say enough about the effort all of our players put fourth- I'm proud of how they handled themselves on the court."

Aragon hopes some of the Steamboat's doubles teams will be pulled back into action when the tournament resumes today.

- To reach John F. Russell call 871-4209

or e-mail jrussell@steamboatpilot.com

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