Aspen boys tennis rides strong singles group into 4A state tournament
Aspen Boys tennis 2016 state qualifiers
1s: Matt Lambert (8-0), Sr.
2s: Dillon Leasure (9-0), Jr.
3s: Alex Ilic (8-1), So.
1d: Keegan Mehall, Sr./Gabe Suarez, Jr. (6-2)
2d: David Zalinsky, So./Jonah Kelley, Fr. (6-3)
3d: Chris Gregory, Sr./George Ghali, Fr. (3-4)
4d: Nathan Bush, So./Dylan DeGraff, Jr. (2-4)
As Aspen High School junior tennis player Dillon Leasure found out, not all demotions are bad. The Skiers’ No. 1 singles player the past two seasons, he has settled in nicely as their No. 2 guy this fall.
“He’s taken it in stride,” Aspen tennis coach Gary Quandt said. “He’s enjoying not having the pressure of the spotlight on him. So I think the lack of pressure has really been helping him relax and play some really good tennis over the course of the season.”
Leasure, who is 9-0 in match play this season, is one of 11 players — that’s the entire varsity team — headed to the Class 4A state tennis tournament this week in Pueblo. He lost his opening match at state in both his freshman and sophomore seasons, but he should be a factor at No. 2 when the state tournament gets underway today.
“I think it’s going to be great going in as two,” Leasure said. “At two, I think I’ll have a little bit better chance to do well. It’s a little bit different. There is not as much pressure being one. Not everyone is watching your match.”
Leasure moved down to the No. 2 spot this season with the return of senior Matthew Lambert, who is 8-0 at the No. 1 spot. Lambert, who competed with the Skiers as a freshman before playing at a South Carolina tennis academy his sophomore season and going his own route as a junior, returned as a senior with the goal of a state title on his mind.
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He has experience playing in large United States Tennis Association tournaments and doesn’t expect to be too phased by the state atmosphere in Pueblo. Lambert also made state as a freshman, going 1-1 as part of the No. 2 doubles team.
“I feel like it’s kind of just starting now. This is where I want to try and kick it into over gear and get focused,” Lambert said of state. “There are some good kids at state, so I want to really show out and play my best. I want to play smart, just stick to the game plan and not get too overworked.”
The third singles player headed to state this week is sophomore Alex Ilic, who took fourth at state as a freshman at No. 3 singles. He enters this year’s tournament with an 8-1 record in match play.
“I kind of know what I’m going to expect now. Last year, I just kind of jumped into it,” Ilic said. “It will give me a little more confidence, knowing what I’m going up against. I’m playing really good right now, and that feels good.”
The Skiers’ depth at singles has been a strength all season. In last week’s regional tournament in Grand Junction, it came down to Aspen and Steamboat Springs, with Aspen finishing a surprising second after handily beating Steamboat twice in the regular season. However, Aspen’s singles players swept through those matches, much like they’ve done most of the season.
“We are very deep. We’ve only lost one singles match all year between the three of them,” Quandt said. “We have some pretty good draws at state, so we should be able to do some pretty good damage there, I’m hoping.”
Despite losses to Steamboat at regionals, the Skiers did qualify all four of its doubles teams as well. The No. 1 team of senior Keegan Mehall and junior Gabriel Suarez both went to state a year ago, losing in the first round at No. 1 doubles.
The only other doubles player with state experience is senior Christopher Gregory, who went 1-1 at No. 4 doubles last year, alongside Cory Barel. This fall, he is playing at No. 3 doubles alongside freshman George Ghali. The duo is 3-4 this season.
“I’m excited, yet nervous about the whole thing, because I know there are a lot of good teams out there,” Gregory said. “We were struggling in the beginning of the year, but now we are kind of finding our rhythm and understanding how each other plays. I think we can do really well this year.”
The No. 2 doubles team of sophomore David Zalinksy and freshman Jonah Kelley are first-time state qualifiers, as is the No. 4 doubles team of sophomore Nathan Bush and junior Dylan DeGraff.
The 4A state tournament will be played at Pueblo City Park beginning today and ending with the championship matches Saturday. The Skiers took eighth as a team last season, with Kent Denver winning the overall championship.
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