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Aspen tennis sending eight to state

Jon Maletz
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN ” Aspen tennis player Michael Willsky’s road to a Region 8 title went through a familiar foe.

The sophomore blazed into Saturday’s regional finals in Steamboat Springs after dropping just one game in a straight-sets victory over Hotchkiss’ No. 3 singles player. The final hurdle was a daunting one: Steamboat’s Jeff Lambart.

“I’ve lost the last three times to him,” Willsky said Sunday. “I was really nervous.”

He hardly looked apprehensive. Willsky cruised in the first set, 6-2, then, after dropping the second, broke Lambart at four-all in the third. He finished off the victory with a dominant service game to clinch the title and earn a second straight trip to the state tournament, which begins Thursday in Pueblo.

Seven Skiers will join him. Aspen’s one, two and three doubles teams plus No. 2 singles player Taylor Lambert booked trips with second-place finishes. All four lost in the finals to Steamboat, which won the regional team title for an 11th consecutive year.

“Eight is a great number,” Aspen assistant coach Torre said Monday. “It’s an amazing success for the players, for the program and for the school. … They all played great. We had a wonderful team and they all performed to their capabilities.”

Willsky pushed Lambart to a tiebreaker in the second set of their match Sept. 22, but ultimately came up short. He was determined to produce a different outcome Saturday, and it showed during a convincing opening-set victory.

“I didn’t think I’d get a set that easy,” he said.

Nothing came easy from that point on. Willsky admitted he let up in the second set, and Lambart took advantage with a 6-2 win of his own.

With a deciding set looming, Willsky huddled with his coach.

“Torre told me to play like I did that first set and to go out and give it all I had,” Willsky said. “I kind of gave up a little there ” I guess I felt I didn’t need to push as hard. I had to put my foot on the gas again.”

Both players were on serve during the first eight games of the third set before Willsky finally pulled off a timely break. He held at love on his ensuing service game to pull off the 6-4 win and match victory.

“It felt amazing. … I’ve been wanting to beat him the last couple years,” Willsky said. “This was the time to do it because this was when it really counted.”

Willsky will be looking to build on last year’s trip to state, when he dropped his first match to Broomfield junior Ken Lynch in straight sets, 6-4, 6-2.

Other Skiers making return trips include Nic Broeking (No. 3 doubles) and Kyle Feurer (No. 1 doubles). Feurer competed in No. 2 singles in Pueblo in 2007.

Paul Young, who will team with Feurer, No. 2 doubles partners Cole Green-Smith and Luke Pratt and Lambert will be competing at state for the first time.

They were nearly joined by three others. The Skiers’ No. 4 doubles team of Tobie Tsuzuki and Nick Fuller wound up third, as did No. 1 singles player Brian Mehall. Mehall narrowly missed out after dropping a third-set tiebreaker to a Montrose player in a match to determine second and third place.

“It was an absolute nail biter that had everyone there completely riveted,” Torre said of Mehall’s match. “To lose by two points after playing for two hours is extremely difficult, but he took it incredibly well. He’s just a freshman, and he has everything to be proud of.

“There were a few matches that could’ve gone either way, but there was no dishonor in those losses. All our players showed an amazing amount of competitiveness and composure.”

jmaletz@aspentimes.com


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