Steamboat Springs' Rachel Grubbs watches her return rocket back across the net Friday. Grubbs and teammate Christi Valicenti each pulled out dramatic three-set victories, but the squad lost four of its seven matches to Ralston Valley in the Sailors' final home matches.

Photo by Joel Reichenberger

Steamboat Springs' Rachel Grubbs watches her return rocket back across the net Friday. Grubbs and teammate Christi Valicenti each pulled out dramatic three-set victories, but the squad lost four of its seven matches to Ralston Valley in the Sailors' final home matches.

Steamboat tennis digs deep in 4-3 loss to Ralston Valley

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Steamboat's Christi Valicenti swings for a ball Friday against Ralston Valley.

— It takes some growing up to win a three-set tennis match after dropping the first set.

That’s one of the things Steamboat Springs High School junior Rachel Grubbs was able to reflect upon Friday after a grueling team dual against Ralston Valley.

The Steamboat Springs High School tennis team lost four of the seven matches against the Mustangs on Friday, falling, 4-3, in the squad’s final home appearance this season.

Still, it was those three matches the squad won that left a positive vibe radiating from the Tennis Center at Steamboat Springs — not just that the Sailors picked up wins at No. 1 and No. 2 singles and No. 1 doubles but how they did.

Singles players Grubbs and Christi Valicenti mined their souls to win three-set matches while the No. 1 doubles tandem of Alli Lowrie and Ali Diehl blasted a quality opponent, 6-1, 6-2.

“To suck it up and win those second sets, those were two really big mental victories for us, and that will help our team a lot,” Steamboat coach John Aragon said. “They have to be on that battlefield and play those matches where they’re equally as skilled and learn that it comes down to how much you want it and how much you believe. I was as proud of those matches as I have been any all year.”

There was nothing easy about it. There never can be when a player falls into a one-set hole.

The odds are long not only because there’s no longer any margin for error but also because there’s usually a reason a player lost the first set. Maybe the opponent found something and capitalized on it. Maybe that the opponent came in with a head full of confidence only added to it.

Maybe the opponent is just better.

“Most of the time, I don’t go out and try to win that second set,” Grubbs said. “A lot of the time, I kind of give up.”

It would have been hard to blame either for seeing a loss as inevitable Friday. Valicenti and Grubbs each lost their first sets, 6-3. Both stared down the inclination to quit, however, and it paid off big.

Ralston Valley’s Olivia Ansilmo, playing Grubbs at No. 2 singles, scored points in bunches by drawing Grubbs to the net, then landing well-placed lobs near the back line. That began to change, however, and Grubbs slowly took control of the match.

She rallied to win the second set, 6-4, then leapt to a 3-0 lead en route to another 6-4 victory.

“It’s more mental than physical,” Grubbs said. “I went out and decided to win. I tried not to go to the net as much and to finish the points faster.”

The 3-6, 6-4, 6-4 win avenged a 6-1, 6-2 loss from earlier this season.

The story was similar for Valicenti, who was even more dominant as she roared back against Alex Purfield at No. 1 singles.

“She came back out after the first set and probably thought she had it,” Valicenti said. “That’s what people usually think when they win the first set, but I played with a lot more intensity than I had in the first. I just wanted it so bad.”

Valicenti also leapt to a 3-0 third-set lead and traded games after that, locking up a 2-6, 6-3, 6-3 victory that bumped her to 8-1 on the season.

“She was a really strong player, and every set and every point was a battle,” Valicenti said. “It was basically who made the mistakes, who didn’t and who wanted it more.”

Lowrie and Diehl didn’t provide near the drama but flexed just as much muscle in their quick two-set win against Megan Wewel and Natalie Skold.

“We had a really good mindset for today,” Lowrie said. “We knew we’d have to fight for it because they’re a really good team.”

Elsewhere, the Sailors struggled against a strong Ralston Valley squad. Isabella Melena beat Steamboat’s Ellie Bender, 6-1, 6-4, at No. 3 singles. Stephanie Pyne and Rachel Trujillo took out Steamboat’s Kira Lorenzen and Lexie Baden, 6-2, 6-3, at No. 2 doubles. Kelsey Maass and Allison Goto beat Steamboat’s Summer Smalley and Brooke Metzler, 6-3, 6-4, at No. 3 doubles, and Brea Harr and Beth Gager won against Steamboat’s Malia Fraioli and Katie Spencer, 6-4, 7-6 (2).

To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 970-871-4253 or email jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com

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