Steamboat Pilot & Today sports reporter and photographer Joel Reichenberger can be reached at 871-4253 or jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com.
Find more columns by Joel here.
Pueblo When you cover the Steamboat Springs High School girls tennis team, you don’t often spend time wondering, “What went wrong?”
In five years on the beat, the racket-wielding Sailors of the spring are responsible for some of my favorite moments. I’ve covered two state champions, plenty of medalists and more great matches than I can remember.
This year, however, “What went wrong?” was about the only question that seemed appropriate.
It’s not fair to say it was a rough year for Steamboat’s boys and girls tennis programs. Both maintained absolute strangleholds on their regional competition. Both fared well throughout the regular season against competition soft and elite.
But at state, both foundered badly, neither able to place a single entry.
So, what went wrong?
Steamboat coach John Aragon talked Thursday about how his players needed more offseason work. Elite high school tennis is hard work, and it doesn’t happen overnight. State tennis is always fun to watch because those top-tier players are among the very best in the region, and they spend much of their year traveling to and from tournaments.
“You just have to go out with an adult and play a practice match,” Aragon said. “Get that exercise, and have fun hitting the ball. If you have a little time, stop by the courts and serve for 15 minutes. They then start to play with a purpose and a passion every time they go to the court.”
On top of that, Aragon said the entire field gets better and more competitive year after year.
Class 4A, where the Sailors are stuck, is the worst, meaning the best, he said.
“There is a lot more depth in 4A than in 5A,” Aragon said. “We’re proud to be a part of it, and we just have to get better because the tournament keeps getting stronger.”
So, what went wrong?
That’s a hard discussion to have without implying this year’s group of Sailors messed up. That’s really not the case, and it shouldn’t be the takeaway.
Steamboat’s four seniors — Christi Valicenti, Alli Lowrie, Ali Diehl and Summer Smalley — all had moments of great tennis this season. They all also struggled at state. Only Smalley got to play more than one match.
Here’s the takeaway: State tennis is a crapshoot, and it can be really, really difficult.
Consider Valicenti, definitely one of the Sailors who put in those extra hours. She worked hard to earn the No. 1 singles position, and she was a huge asset to the team all season long. She lost just three times — twice to the same opponent — but for all that excellence, she got burned at state in her junior and senior seasons, falling in the first round both times.
She doesn’t leave a sad legacy, however. Instead, she did it the right way, and that’s why she’ll continue her career in college.
What went wrong? State went wrong. There were great opponents and big matches, and somehow in one year, they all seemed to catch up to Steamboat.
The Sailors will be back, however. Packing up to leave as the tournament still raged on, Aragon said as much.
“We’re going to go back,” he said, “and we’re going to work even harder.”
To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 970-871-4253 or email jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com