Steamboat Springs High School girls tennis team eyes higher state placements
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — The Steamboat Springs High School girls tennis team had state on its mind at practice on Wednesday.
The Sailors have won 14 regional titles in 15 years, but head coach Kristyn Wykert wants them to aspire to something more.
“I’ve asked my players what their personal goal is and what their team goal is and with that, a lot of them wanted to win regionals,” Wykert said. “And I said, ‘Why do we want to stop there?’ Because last year at state we got sixth. We’re trying to set our goal a little bit higher this year, because I know we can make a statement at state.”
Steamboat junior Mae Thorp has made the trip to state for the past two years at No. 1 singles, taking second place at both and hopes to make this season her golden year. Last year, Thorp fell to senior Trisha Somasundaram from Peak to Peak and the year before that to fellow freshman Sammy Moore-Thomson of the Colorado Academy.
“She needs to stay present in the point and use all the tools that she has because she has a toolbox and sometimes only takes out a few of the tricks that she knows,” Wykert said. “She needs strategy and variety, changing up her game a little bit. Sometimes she’s just one speed, power and go, and doesn’t care what the other person is doing. She needs to make sure she uses all the different strokes and places her serves.”
Thorp spent her offseason managing and practicing with the boys varsity team, returning serves from Sailors’ top player Andy Schuiling, who took fifth at this year’s state championships.
“I like playing with the boys. It’s one of my favorite parts of tennis year-round. It’s so nice to have them,” Thorp said. “It’s a different challenge — they definitely are not easy on girls. Andy will serve 120 miles per hour and you have to figure out how to get it back.”
Sailors senior Lily Fox has also played tennis year-round over the years, and trained with Thorp and the boys this offseason. She currently holds the No. 2 singles spot on the team. Fox made state her sophomore year, but lost during a highly contentious match in the first round that crippled her mental game.
As a varsity veteran since her freshman year, Fox has waited to take the reins on leading the team.
“I was the only freshman on varsity when I came in,” Fox said. “I was on the three singles spot and now I’m really excited to take that leadership position and foster a loving environment.”
Fox is one of five seniors on the roster, but the bulk of the team’s depth comes from its junior class, which includes Thorp, No. 3 singles player Noelle Cerone and the doubles team of Morgan Sauerbrey and Lauren Ehrlich.
While the singles and doubles positions are likely to shift through challenge matches in the coming weeks, Sauerbrey and Ehrlich come off two years of state experience like Thorp.
Sauerbrey and Ehrlich were first paired at No. 4 doubles during their freshman year, where Ehrlich battled through challenge matches during the opening weeks of practice to earn her spot on the court with Sauerbrey.
“At that point, we didn’t know each other and it was kind of weird,” Ehrlich said. “Chemistry is really important on the court because a lot of tennis is communicating, but over time it’s gotten much better.”
The two qualified for state and made the quarterfinals as freshmen and moved up through the ranks the following year to the No. 1 doubles spot. They made the state quarterfinal once again before facing elimination.
“I want to qualify for state again, but last year we had some frustrations at state and I want to get through those,” Sauerbrey said. “We made it to the quarterfinals and I got so mad during the match, and I just don’t want to get in my head like that.”
Sauerbrey admits that her competitive nature is more outwardly expressed while Ehrlich keeps a calm demeanor. The two personalities balance each other out on the court and also play to their strengths.
“I think I have a good serve and Morgan (Sauerbrey) has better ground strokes,” Ehrlich said.
With this being their third year together, Ehrlich and Sauerbrey hope they can make it further in the state tournament by playing smart tennis and being able to pick up each other’s slack in challenging court situations.
“They have really good chemistry. Since they have played together for so long, their movement and communication is really good,” Wykert said.
In her second year as head coach, Wykert is hoping to foster a team culture where players will cheer each other on when they’re off the court. She believes that high school tennis provides opportunities for life lessons, and now that she has one year under her belt, growth is more attainable.
“I think I’ve set the tone this year because the girls are taking to what I’d like this team to be,” Wykert said. “I have a vision of how I want this team to bond. I wanted to change the culture a little bit and that was kind of a struggle last year. This year, we’re there.”
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