Aspen, Basalt boys tennis teams head to regional play hoping to extend season
Regionals are Thursday, Friday in Grand Junction
As the Aspen High School boys tennis season was getting started earlier this fall, everything seemed to be in disarray. There was no clear head coach — and briefly, no athletic director — and the roster had seen a large turnover after graduating a deep senior class the year before.
But as the weeks have gone by, Bryan Mehall and Ksenija Ilic have settled into their coaching roles, players have settled into the competition mindset and it’s become more or less business as usual for the Skiers, who hope to again be a strong presence at regional play this week.
“It was definitely a chaotic start, but we had a lot of people step up, including Bryan Mehall and Ksenija, who have both been very helpful,” Aspen senior Quinn McKie said. “We’ve been having a good season, ultimately. We lost a lot of seniors last year … so it definitely left a little bit of a hole on the team, but we filled it pretty well.”
Mehall, a 2012 AHS graduate and former player, and Ilic, the mother of 2019 AHS graduate and former tennis standout Alex Ilic, stepped in to replace Steve Sand, who had been the team’s head coach since the 2018 season. Mehall is the de facto head coach who oversees practice and handles most of the administrative duties this season, while Ilic travels with the team and serves as the primary coach during road matches.
Christian Kelly, a 2021 AHS graduate who had been the team’s No. 1 singles player the past two seasons, also helped out as an assistant coach at times this fall. His younger brother, sophomore Chase Kelly, had been the team’s No. 1 singles player this season but will miss regionals as he opted to travel to Austria for ski training instead. Chase Kelly also is a standout ski racer for AHS.
“We started out with a couple of guys that hadn’t really played before and are now playing on the varsity team,” Mehall said. “They are picking it up really fast and I’m really proud of how everyone has come together as a team. It’s really working out these last couple of weeks.”
The Skiers have won the majority of their matches this fall, including a recent run of 4-3 wins. But now it’s onto the postseason, with regionals taking place Thursday and Friday in Grand Junction. The top two placers at each position will advance to next week’s Class 4A state tournament in Pueblo. AHS has long dominated regional play and has won the regional tournament the past four years.
“It’s going to be close, but we definitely stand a chance. We’ve beaten a lot of the schools already, so we’ll see,” said sophomore Josh Ward, one of the most improved players over the past few weeks. “I started off a bit shaky, but it’s going well now. I’m playing some good tennis.”
With Chase Kelly out of the lineup, junior varsity player Tucker Livingston will step in at No. 1 singles at regionals. McKie will play at No. 2 singles and Ward at No. 3 singles. The No. 1 doubles team includes Robert Holton and Micky Terkun; No. 2 doubles is Beckett Brennan and Alex Schlosser; No. 3 doubles is Nico Smith and Wyatt Eaton; and No. 4 doubles is Luca Pedinielli and Nick Stephens.
Aspen’s regional competition this year includes Basalt, Vail Christian, Steamboat Springs, Durango, Grand Junction and Grand Junction Central.
“We have a good chance to get quite a few people in state, which would be good,” Mehall said. “Everyone is playing really well at this time of the season, which is when it really counts. And everyone has been handling the pressure well. Hopefully we can keep it up and get a couple more wins against those big teams.”
Basalt eyes first state qualifier
Like Aspen, Basalt tennis has seen a lot of changeover this fall, notably at coach with Chris Kilgore having taken over the reins to the young program. BHS boys tennis began as a club in 2017 and only made its varsity debut a year later. The Longhorns are still looking for their first state qualifier.
“I’m thinking we might be able to pull something off,” Kilgore said Wednesday of regionals. “I’m pulling for everybody tomorrow, for sure. I think we’ve got a pretty solid chance at one of our doubles positions.”
Kilgore took over for Sarah Varner, who spent one season as the team’s coach last fall. He moved to the Roaring Fork Valley with his girlfriend in July 2020 and teaches at Roaring Fork High School. He grew up in Atlanta and was a standout doubles player through high school. Kilgore has more than a dozen years of coaching various sports on his resume and was even a middle school athletic director in Boulder before coming to the valley.
The veteran singles lineup he is sending to regional play includes seniors Jonas Kohout (No. 1) and Matthew Roggie (No. 2), and junior Connor Hoffman (No. 3).
“It’s been tough for our singles players, honestly. They’ve had a pretty rough go, but we have a couple of pretty good draws,” Kilgore said. “As far as Jonas and Matthew go, it’s just a matter of those guys going out and hitting the ball. Staying in it mentally. They have it pretty tough because there are some guys in those 1 and 2 positions who are definitely playing year-round, and those guys are playing other sports for me. But they’ve both gotten some wins, so if things can come together for us tomorrow, that would be great.”
The experience drops off with the doubles group. No. 1 doubles is Ryan Palmer and Jacob Roggie; No. 2 is Hayes Gatlin and Sawyer Harrington; No. 3 is Colton Stoner and Connor Wolfe; and No. 4 is Taylor Hays and Elias Schendler.
Five of the eight doubles players are freshmen, as are 11 of the 19 players on the entire roster. The all-district team includes four players who attend Glenwood Springs High School and another who attends Cornerstone Christian School in Basalt.
“We have a lot of young players,” Kilgore said. “I’m feeling pretty good about the longevity of the program.”
The Aspen High School football team closed out non-league play on Friday night with a 34-21 loss at Steamboat Springs. All of the Skiers’ points came late with the game well out of reach.
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