Kelly steps into top spot as Aspen High boys tennis heads to 4A state tournament
Christian Kelly isn’t one of the bigger kids on the tennis court. He doesn’t serve with as much force as some of the other players, either, but the Aspen High School junior has certainly held his own this fall as the Skiers’ No. 1 singles player.
“I’m hoping for good things out of Christian,” AHS coach Steve Sand said. “He’s a grinder. He is mentally tough. He usually ends up playing people who hit harder than he does, but it’s his mental toughness and fitness that gets him through a lot of matches.”
Kelly, who also is an accomplished mountain biker and skier, is one of 11 the Aspen boys tennis team is sending to the Class 4A state tournament, which gets underway Thursday in Pueblo. The Skiers also sent their entire team last fall, finishing seventh overall with six points. Colorado Academy won the 2018 state championship.
While Kelly is the team’s top player, he was the only one to not win his regional tournament last week in Grand Junction, falling 6-4, 3-6, 6-1 to Federico Bettazzi of Vail Christian. This isn’t hurting his confidence in the slightest, however, as he does have plenty of state experience to lean on.
“I’m not really expecting anything. Everyone is so much better, but I’m confident with my play,” Kelly said. “I’m pretty happy. I’ve gotten a lot better in the past couple of weeks. The only bad loss was really against the previous state winner, so I’m feeling good.”
Kelly was the team’s No. 2 singles player last fall as a sophomore, winning his opening-round match before losing in the second round. He played alongside Georges Ghali on the No. 2 doubles team in 2017, again going 1-1.
This fall, Kelly stepped into the No. 1 singles spot, replacing last year’s No. 1 Alex Ilic, who lost in the first round. Colorado Academy senior Richter Jordaan went on to win the 4A state championship at No. 1 singles last fall.
“He was ready for it,” Sand said of Kelly becoming the team’s No. 1 player. “He’s played great all year. Like I say every year, when you are No. 1, no matter how good a whole team is or how deep, they usually have a good No. 1 player. He’s had a winning record and won most of his matches.”
Kelly will face Pueblo Central senior Dario Alcala in the first round on Thursday. Alcala lost in the first round at No. 1 singles last fall.
Complete draws and results can be found here.
Behind Kelly in Pueblo this week will be No. 2 singles player Alex Mosher and No. 3 singles player Liam Sunkel. Like Kelly, both are juniors. Mosher was the team’s No. 3 singles player as a sophomore, losing 6-4, 4-6, 4-6 in the first round at state. He’s entering this year’s tournament with a lot more confidence coming off his regional championship.
“It’s been real fun. I’ve had some tough competition, but overall I’ve been mostly winning, so it’s been good,” Mosher said of moving up to No. 2 singles. “I’m going in with a little more confidence since I won my region, so hopefully I’ll do better than last year. But it’s the luck of the draw.”
Mosher will face Niwot junior Sam Keronen in the first round on Thursday. Keronen was the state runner-up at No. 1 doubles last fall alongside teammate Manas Saini.
Sunkel and Ghali played 1 doubles last fall, where they lost in the second round but battled back to make the playback semifinals. Like most of his teammates, Sunkel is coming off a regional championship.
“It feels good. It’s definitely very encouraging for states. It gives me some confidence, but I was expecting to win regions,” Sunkel said. “I know what I’m expecting. I’ve seen our past 3 singles play and I know what the competition is going to be like.”
Sunkel will see Pueblo Centennial junior Zander Pacheco in the first round on Thursday. Pacheco played 2 doubles last fall, losing in the first round at state.
GHALI, TRALINS LEAD THE WAY IN DOUBLES PLAY
Ghali is one of only two seniors on the AHS state team this fall, the other being 3 doubles player Ethan Godfrey.
A savvy state veteran, Ghali believes he and junior Lukee Tralins, his partner this time around, have a chance to make some noise.
“We are really good friends on and off the court, and the same with our families. So I’m really excited about the energy we’ve created as a duo so far,” Ghali said. “Being in the same position I was last year heading into states, I know exactly what the shortcomings were and I know how we can improve on those and make a re-run of last year, except do better and hopefully make the finals.”
Tralins also has state experience, having played at 2 doubles alongside Robert Holton a year ago, with the duo going 2-2. Tralins and Ghali will see D’Evelyn’s Erik Christofferson and Carter Dart in the first round on Thursday.
“I’m pretty confident,” Tralins said. “We are doing pretty well so far this year. We definitely have the talent to do well at states.”
Aspen’s No. 2 doubles team this week will be Holton, a sophomore, and junior Bryce Cordts-Pearce. They face Colorado Academy’s Holden Koch and Grant Nelligan in the first round.
Aspen’s No. 3 doubles team is Godfrey and junior Liam Farrey, who play Disovery Canyon’s Caleb Trevillian and Jason Pabelico in the first round.
The No. 4 doubles team is junior Dyer Hunting and sophomore Quinn McKie, who face Littleton’s Max Villa-Franzmann and Tyler Campbell in the first round.
With all 11 players again qualified for state, there is an opportunity for the Skiers to make a run at a high placing in the team standings.
“It’s a nice trend,” Sand said. “It’s nice to have the whole team going. It’s good for camaraderie and again, more chances to win matches.”
The state tournament ends on Saturday.
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For Basalt, one of the preseason frontrunners in the Western Slope League, Friday’s loss puts its playoff hopes in jeopardy, while Aspen’s loss to the Bulldogs all but eliminates it from postseason contention.