Freshmen doubles duo of Schendler, Hays first Basalt tennis players to make state

The BHS program began in 2017 as a club before moving up to varsity a year later

Basalt High School freshmen tennis players Elias Schendler, right, and Taylor Hays are headed to the state tournament, a first for the BHS program. Courtesy photo.

Longtime friends, Taylor Hays and Elias Schendler had never played competitive tennis prior to joining the Basalt High School team this fall. The freshmen landed together at No. 4 doubles and little did they know would end up making history for a program still in its infancy.

By qualifying for this week’s Class 4A boys state tournament in Pueblo, the Longhorn duo is the first in the four years of BHS tennis to be able to play in the season’s finale.

“It was a little surprising since it was both of our first years playing tennis,” Hays said. “It’s a pretty great accomplishment that we are the first to ever go to state from this program. Hopefully there will be more.”

Basalt boys tennis started with five players as a club in 2017. It was the capstone project of then-junior Dane Elliott, who was a senior a year later when the club became an official varsity program. Dane’s mother, Diana Elliott, had started the BHS girls tennis team, which played its first varsity matches in the spring of 2017 and is still looking for its first state qualifier.

Diana Elliott stepped away from coaching after the 2021 spring season, which was the final semester for her daughter, Mari Elliott, the team’s No. 1 singles player and last year’s class valedictorian. Taking over BHS tennis this fall was Chris Kilgore, a local teacher who grew up in Atlanta and has lived in the valley since last summer.

“I really am just thankful to Jason Santo, the AD, and to Diana Elliott, the coach who built the programs, for entrusting me with it,” Kilgore said. “Having these guys around for three more years, they can hopefully step up and recruit some guys who are younger coming in and build up some excitement for the program. That’s the whole idea.”

The BHS boys program has continued to grow each year, beginning with those five club players in 2017 to the 19 players this season, most of those being freshmen. However, entering the fourth season of varsity, one thing the Basalt program was still missing was its first state qualifier — regionals had always proved too much of a challenge for the upstart team.

But thanks to a rally last week at regionals in Grand Junction, Hays and Schendler find themselves as Longhorn pioneers who will represent the school at the state tournament beginning Thursday.

“It’s awesome. Tennis isn’t our main sport. We both play other sports and our main focus is on that. So it came out of nowhere,” said Schendler, who like Hays also plays basketball and baseball. “A lot of stuff had to go right for us to make state. After we had lost a match the first day, our chances were pretty low. So when we did, it was insane.”

Players qualify for state by finishing as one of the top two at regionals. As the No. 4 seed of six teams competing at No. 4 doubles last week in Grand Junction, Hays and Schendler looked strong early on, rolling to a 6-0, 6-2 win over Vail Christian in the first round. But they lost in the semifinal, 6-1, 6-1, to a duo from Grand Junction Central, who went on to win the regional over Durango.

Basalt High School freshmen tennis players Elias Schendler, left, and Taylor Hays are headed to the state tournament, a first for the BHS program. Courtesy photo.

This was key, as it meant Basalt’s duo was able to battle back through the underside of the bracket and still qualify. They beat a pair from Grand Junction in the third-place match before getting to play Durango for second place, the winner qualifying for state.

It took three sets, but the Longhorns eventually prevailed to make history for the program.

“It was a great way to earn their spot at state by playing the best tennis match they’ve ever played,” Kilgore said. “These guys went out and won the first set, but then things went south during the second set and Durango evened it up. Elias and Taylor stayed composed and kept their cool and just made it happen in the third set.”

They are the only state qualifiers out of the valley this fall, as perennial regional powerhouse Aspen did not have any players finish in the top two in Grand Junction. The Skiers did have a couple of doubles teams finish third and therefore are state alternates, but they won’t compete without any other teams dropping out.

Hays and Schendler will open play Thursday against the Pueblo West pair of Jesus Ildefonso and Zion Spear. The tournament runs through the championship matches on Saturday.

“One thing that’s great about Elias and Taylor is they are incredibly coachable,” Kilgore said. “They keep their cool. They kind of just take every step as the next step. We are not making a big fuss about going to state. It’s just the next thing. We are going to go in there, they are going to keep having fun and keep playing tennis.”