Aspen High girls tennis beats Vail Mountain, looks toward regional play
Considering she finished third at state last spring, the up-and-down season of Aspen High School’s Mary Williams might make it seem like she’s taken a step backward. In reality, she’s been competitive against some elite competition, which she has to face on a regular basis as the team’s No. 1 singles player.
“No matter how good a team is or not, they usually have someone who can play. You are getting the best every time. You never really get a day off or a layup,” AHS girls tennis coach Steve Sand said. “I’m guessing it probably frustrates her at times, but I think once she is on the court she embraces the challenge. I think it’s going to lead her to be more mentally tough come regionals and state.”
Williams pulled out a 6-2, 6-3 win over Vail Mountain School’s Grace Anderson on Monday when the teams met at the Snowmass Club. The match — a 6-1 win for AHS — was the third and final of the season at home for the Skiers, all of them having been played in succession within the past week.
For Williams, who isn’t overly fond of playing outdoors, it was a good bit of fine-tuning as regionals get closer. The AHS junior has won the past two regional championships at No. 1 singles and hopes to soon make it 3-for-3 in her high school career.
“I really want to win it again. But there are really good girls this year,” Williams said Monday. “I’m always playing people that are highly ranked in the state and are really good. And it’s really fun, but I don’t know, sometimes it’s really hard to be alone out there. But I love it.”
The Skiers finished seventh in Class 3A last year, the first time that classification had existed in Colorado girls tennis. While AHS did return the majority of its players from last year’s state team, the roles each player has is certainly different.
Junior Niko Hansen — who sat out Monday’s match with a minor injury, resulting in Aspen’s only loss against VMS — is holding down the No. 2 singles spot, while freshman Macy Hopkinson has settled in at No. 3 singles.
“She is kind of learning the ropes of these matches at three singles, these long, grind-it-out kind of points that happen a lot,” Sand said of the freshman. “She is learning how to be patient and when to put the ball away. We are looking forward to great things from her the next four years.”
Senior Alura Potamkin and sophomore Karina Keller play No. 1 doubles for Aspen, although they didn’t get to play their usual position Monday after VMS had to forfeit the match. Much of the lineup has undergone transformations from week to week as Sand, who is in his first year as head coach after previously serving as the team’s assistant, has let the girls settle things out on the court as much as possible.
“We wanted to let them go at it and evaluate and challenge each other for as long as possible,” Sand said. “It’s kind of been like two seasons — before spring break and after that break. I felt like we started at square one back at practice after spring break. Had a tough match right after. We’ve been building on our goals, trying to build up and peak at regionals.”
The Skiers still have three road matches remaining before then. They’ll play Tuesday at Glenwood Springs — weather permitting — before going to Paonia on Saturday and Basalt on April 27. Regionals are scheduled to get underway May 3 in Grand Junction.
Last year, Aspen’s regional team title ended Steamboat Springs’ 12-year reign as the regional champion. The two teams could very well again be the favorites for the title this season.
“We are coming together. Our goal is to win regionals,” Sand said. “That’s where we are setting our sights, to all come together with our strategy and fitness and mental toughness right at regionals.”
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With the game slipping away in the second half, Kylie Kenny and Mia Seltzer were the catalysts in Aspen’s 12-11 stunner on Monday over visiting Roaring Fork on the AHS turf, a win that keeps the Skiers undefeated on the young season.