Leasure leads Aspen High boys tennis into 4A state tournament for final time
It’s the final chapter for Dillon Leasure. The Aspen High School senior has been the No. 1 singles player three of his four years on the AHS boys tennis team, including this fall, and will write the closing words to his Skier career this week at the Class 4A state tournament.
“He’s been here for a long time. All the (opposing) coaches are going to be happy to see him leave,” AHS coach Gary Quandt said. “He played well in his freshman and sophomore year, but he was playing guys that were three or four years older. Now he’s playing guys that are younger or equal age. … I expect him to do really well.”
The 4A tournament starts Thursday at Pueblo City Park, with the championship matches scheduled for Saturday. Aspen qualified all 11 of its varsity players after dominating its regional last week in Grand Junction.
On top of that list is Leasure, who played No. 1 singles as a freshman and sophomore, getting bounced in the first round each time. He moved down to No. 2 singles in 2016 with the emergence of Matthew Lambert, now playing for the University of Pennsylvania, where he lost in the semifinals before finishing third.
Aspen finished fourth as a team in 2016, one of the school’s all-time best finishes. Expectations are just as high this week.
“It would be great to get past fourth, and maybe make third or second, maybe even win it. That would be awesome,” Leasure said. “It’s good to play No. 1 again. It will be fun. I’m excited to go back. It’s kind of sad that it’s my last year. It will be good to be out there with the team.”
Leasure, who is undefeated this season, will face George Washington senior Dan Guiot in a winnable first-round matchup. The quarterfinals will be another story, with a possible meeting with Colorado Academy junior Richter Jordaan in the pipeline. Leasure said he has never beaten Jordaan when they’ve played. Jordaan finished third at No. 1 singles last fall.
Last year’s 4A champion, Kent Denver’s Casey Ross, graduated. The runner-up, Peak to Peak’s Brett Finan, is back in the tournament as a junior. Leasure could possibly face Finan in the semifinals.
“It will be a fun challenge,” Leasure said. “Second round I could play a kid that I’ve played a few times before that I have not beat yet. Hopefully we can change that. That’s always the goal.”
Ilic, Suarez hope for singles success at Nos. 2 and 3
AHS junior Alex Ilic will play No. 2 singles for the Skiers at state after being the No. 3 player the past two seasons. He lost in the quarterfinals as a freshman before making the semifinals as a sophomore, finishing fourth both years.
“It’s a big step up,” Ilic said. “There will be a lot more competition, but I’m going to just try and do the best I can for states. I think I can go far.”
Like Leasure, Ilic hasn’t lost a match this season. He will face Pueblo West senior Nick Hawk in the first round.
As of now, Ilic is the heir apparent to Leasure’s spot at No. 1 singles in 2018.
“I’m trying to focus on this season, but it’s obviously on my mind,” Ilic said. “It will be a really big step up going to one, and I’m trying to learn from him and do the best I can.”
Senior Gabriel Suarez (5-2), a Glenwood Springs High School student playing for the Skiers, will play at No. 3 singles. Suarez and Keegan Mehall combined to make the 4A semifinals at No. 1 doubles last year, finishing third.
Suarez plays Pueblo Centennial sophomore Nate Finegold in the first round.
Zalinski, Kelley take charge of doubles teams
Aspen’s No. 1 doubles team this season is the duo of junior Jonah Kelley and sophomore David Zalinski, also both Glenwood students. This is their second season playing alongside each after making the quarterfinals at No. 2 doubles in 2016.
“It’s been really fun to mature as a group. We’ve come together and really been a solid team because we know each other so well,” Zalinski said. “Expectation wise, we are coming in and we are going to give it everything we got. We are hoping to do better than quarterfinals and maybe get to the semis and even the finals this year.”
Kelley and Zalinksi will play the Evergreen duo of Carter Morrill and Konrad Ladow in the first round.
Zalinksi said both he and Kelley hope to compete as singles players in 2018.
The remaining six doubles players include four freshmen for the Skiers.
“I’m excited — a little nervous. I don’t really know what it’s going to be like,” AHS freshman Christian Kelly said.
Kelly plays at No. 2 doubles alongside sophomore George Ghali, who made the quarterfinals at No. 3 doubles last fall alongside then-senior Christopher Gregory. Despite the inexperience, Kelly and Ghali have not lost a match this season.
“I thought we were going to do a lot worse, actually,” Kelly said. “But yeah, it’s going good. At the beginning we weren’t used to playing with each other, but now we are used to it.”
Ghali and Kelly will take on Air Academy’s Ahyo Falick and Justin Brand in the first round.
Aspen’s No. 3 doubles team includes senior Dylan DeGraff and freshman Liam Sunkel, while the No. 4 doubles team includes freshmen Lukee Tralins and Bryce Cordts-Pearce.
“They are pretty feisty, so I’m anticipating they will play well,” Quandt said of his large freshmen group.
DeGraff played alongside Nathan Bush at No. 4 doubles last year, losing in the first round.
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Buttermilk Ski Area already is scheduled to host the world’s best at ESPN’s X Games this coming week, while it was recently announced Aspen Highlands will host alpine skiing’s NorAm finals later this spring.