Aspen High girls tennis hopes to make a run or two in 3A state tournament
There will be a lot of unknowns for the Aspen High School girls tennis team at the Class 3A state tournament this week in Greeley, which is something the Skiers should be plenty use to by now living so far from the Front Range.
“When we are on the Western Slope here we really don’t play a lot of these other teams and don’t know much about them until we get to state and see what we’re up against,” AHS coach Steve Sand said.
The 3A tournament, held at Greeley’s Centennial Park, is scheduled to get underway Thursday morning, with the semifinals taking place Friday and the finals on Saturday. Aspen is sending a group of five to compete, led by No. 1 singles player Mary Williams.
Sand certainly believes the team is capable of making deep runs, although there always is that uncertainty as well as the luck of the draw. Still, with three regional championships to lean on, the Skiers have no reason to be bashful.
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“We would have loved to bring more, the whole team, but with this small group we’ll get to really focus on them,” Sand said. “The coaches will be there every step of the way.”
Here’s a closer look at each of Aspen’s state participants.
NO. 1 SINGLES: MARY WILLIAMS
Williams, a junior, is in the state tournament for the third time in three years, all at No. 1 singles. She lost in the first round as a freshman in Class 4A, but had an impressive run as a sophomore in the first year 3A had its own classification.
Last spring, Williams lost in the second round to eventual state champion Sammy Moore-Thomson of Colorado Academy. She then went on to win all three of her playback matches to finish third in the state.
This experience should bode her well, although it’s not doing much to take away the butterflies.
“I’m nervous,” Williams said. “I’m really excited, though. It should be good. It’s going to be really fun. States is always really fun.”
Williams will face Dawson sophomore Bridget Bell in the first round on Thursday. The two played earlier this season in Aspen, with Williams winning 6-3, 6-3. A potential semifinal matchup for Williams could be against Peak to Peak junior Trisha Somasundaram, who Williams beat 6-2, 6-4 in the playback rounds last year.
The most enticing matchup for Williams would come in the championship match against Steamboat Springs sophomore Mae Thorp, should they both get there. Thorp made the state finals at No. 1 singles as a freshman, losing 6-0, 6-0 to Moore-Thomson, who was also a freshman. Moore-Thomson hasn’t competed this season for Colorado Academy and is not in the state tournament this week.
“I’m just hoping she can work her way through the draw and maybe get another chance at Mae in the finals,” Sand said of Williams.
Williams and Thorp already have quite the history. Williams beat the Steamboat star in the regional final last year to help the Skiers to the regional championship, ending the Sailors’ 12-year run at the top. They’ve played twice this year, Thorp winning easily early in the season before they met again in the regional final last week in Grand Junction. Thorp again took the win, but it was much closer at 6-2, 4-6, 6-4.
And Williams would certainly love one more shot against Thorp.
“That match was really close. It was sad, but she’s really good. We are always super close,” Williams said of this year’s regional final. “The first set at regionals I lost really badly, but then I kind of figured it out. I hope I play her again at states. That would be really fun.”
NO. 2 SINGLES: NIKO HANSEN
Sand called Hansen a “nice surprise.” An exchange student from Copenhagen, Denmark, the junior has provided the Skiers with a big boost on the court in what is likely to be her one and only year in Aspen.
“I heard around the school that she played tennis and was pretty good, but until the first day she came out to practice or tryouts, we didn’t really know,” Sand said.
According to Hansen, she was quite the talent when she was younger, winning an age-level national championship in Denmark when she was 12. Soon after that happened, injuries led to her stepping away from the sport until she joined the AHS tennis team this spring.
“I love it here. I was fortunate enough to get placed in Aspen, because you can’t choose. I’ve just had a great time,” Hansen said. “I felt like I needed to do a high school sport, and I don’t really do sports. I felt like I was going to be the worst on the team because I hadn’t played in a while.”
Hansen hasn’t looked out of practice this season. She followed a strong regular season by winning the regional championship at No. 2 singles last week, besting Vail Mountain’s Skylar Barr in the finals, 6-4, 6-1.
Hansen will face Colorado Academy senior Lila Arnold in the first round on Thursday.
NO. 3 SINGLES: MACY HOPKINSON
Like Hansen, Hopkinson won her regional title last week, beating Vail Mountain’s Sophie Daniel in the final, 6-2, 6-2. Sand hopes those regional championships will give both girls a big confidence boost going into state.
“It’s not just winning regionals,” Sand said. “You can win and not play well, but I thought they played well and I hope they think so, too. So they should have some confidence.”
Hopkinson is only a freshman and will be entering the big stage for the first time. She’s played tennis as long as she can remember, but never like this. Even getting to the state tournament was a surprise.
“I was just shocked I made it to states,” Hopkinson said. “I’m just expecting to play my best and see where it gets me.”
Sand has been impressed by Hopkinson’s growth throughout the season. She’s handled the pressure well, highlighted by her strong performance at regionals. Other than VMS’s Daniel, who is on the opposite side of the draw, Hopkinson won’t see many familiar faces in the state tournament. She’ll face Colorado Springs School sophomore Hina Suzuki in the first round.
“I just want to go watch her play and see how she handles it,” Sand said. “I’m curious myself. She has been getting smarter and better throughout the year. She showed that at regionals. I’m along for the ride, too.”
NO. 2 DOUBLES: ADDY WALSON AND BLISS PEKKALA
Walson, a sophomore, and Pekkala, a junior, also won their regional championship, but they had to work a little more than their singles counterparts did. In fact, the championship match last week got off to an embarrassing start, the AHS duo losing 6-0 in the first set.
Apparently there was nothing to worry about.
“I was watching the match and they were definitely not that far off,” Sand said. “The score wasn’t indicative of the points. It was a couple of points here and there and I knew they could turn it around, and they sure did.”
Walson and Pekkala eventually won the match over Steamboat’s Amy Speer and Amanda Walker, 0-6, 6-4, 6-2. It’s all been part of their continued growth as a doubles team.
“She is really nice and supportive and I try to do that for her,” Walson said of her teammate. “It’s definitely gotten more genuine. It hasn’t been as awkward, I guess. Just playing these last few matches together has been really beneficial to our relationship.”
This will be Pekkala’s second time at the state tournament. She didn’t make it as a freshman, but did at No. 3 doubles last spring alongside Olivia Burkley. The duo won their first-round match before losing in the second round.
This will be Walson’s first time in the season finale, although she understands what she needs to do when she gets there.
“I went last year to support, of course,” Walson said. “I didn’t get to experience the tournament playing, but I did get a vibe for it. I have a sense of what I’m getting into.”
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