First-timers take final | AspenTimes.com

First-timers take final

Nate Peterson

Paul Conrad/The Aspen Times

Sara Dukes and Chrissie Zartman are AVP tour regulars who, before Saturday, had never competed at the MotherLode.Dawn Tischauser and Deb Ponis are Denverites who don’t travel the pro circuit, but have had considerable success at the annual Labor Day weekend open in Aspen. Monday marked the fourth appearance in the Lode final for Tischauser, the 2005 champion.It also marked a changing of the guard, as Zartman – at all of 5 feet, 3 inches – and Dukes downed their older peers on the other side of the net in three games (21-12, 19-21, 15-8) to become the new queens of the MotherLode.

The road to the crown included a tense three-game semifinal win over top-seeded Angela Knopf and hometown favorite Catie Mintz, who share a combined five Lode finals appearances between them, including three wins for Knopf.Hailing from Huntington Beach and Hermosa Beach, Calif., respectively, Dukes and Zartman both said their lack of experience in Aspen was arguably an advantage.”Our goal was to win the tournament, and we came out and took care of business,” Dukes said. “Coming into it, I don’t think we really even paid attention to who had won. Every time we stepped onto the court, we knew what we had to do on our side and that was the only thing we really cared about.”Tischauser’s and Ponis’ signature win came Sunday, when the No. 5 seeds took down Knopf and Mintz.

“It was huge,” said Ponis, who mentioned after the finals loss that she was playing for her incarcerated brother. “It kind of felt like a final yesterday. When you knock off a No. 1, both of whom are pretty outstanding players, that feels pretty good.””That also forced a couple of really big teams to the other side,” Tischauser said. “Not that our crossover wasn’t difficult, but it put us in a good position. It was pretty stacked on that side.”Just as other teams had done all weekend, Tischauser and Ponis served to Zartman in all three games. The strategy forced the diminutive 24-year-old to either have to hit at the net or serve up quick first-hit sets to Dukes.

Zartman typically chose the latter, letting Dukes doing most of the work at the net, while occasionally crossing up the opposition with well-placed cut and drop shots.Zartman, a former starter at UCLA, also made her presence felt on defense with a number of tough digs to keep points alive.”People do try to go after Chrissie, but we have strategies to get around that,” Dukes said. “I think that she passes really well, and I’m able to go over on two as much as I can, and that keeps the other side off balance. It has been really successful.””We have the over on two, which is really good, and it kind of breaks it up,” Zartman added. “When [Sara] sets me, they don’t know if I’m going to hit or she is going to hit.”

Tischauser and Ponis were admittedly overmatched, but Tischauser took pride in the fact that she and her partner forced a third game, instead of packing it in after getting down, 12-8, in the second.”It’s always tough not to come out on the winning end, but I’m very pleased with our finish,” she said. “These guys are in California, they’re playing AVP all the time. These are the best teams we’ve seen all year. For us to get here and give them a match, I’m thrilled.” Nate Peterson’s e-mail address is npeterson@aspentimes.com