The French connection |

The French connection

Jordan Curet/The Aspen Times

PUEBLO Last year when her father asked her where in the United States she wanted to go to high school for a year, Clara Kobuch had but one request.”I had no idea where I wanted to go,” said the soft-spoken native of Toulouse, France. “I said, ‘The only thing I want to do is ski as much as I can.'”Easy enough. Kobuch’s father made a few calls, and a short time later his daughter was on her way to Aspen to study at a high school whose mascot is a skier, no less.As foreign exchanges go, both sides ended up a winner.Kobuch got her mountains and her snow, and the Skiers, in return, got a top-flight tennis player: the best female tennis player to play for Aspen, in fact, since Laura Gordon won a state title at No. 1 singles as a sophomore in 2000. Gordon later walked on at UCLA.Kobuch won the Skiers’ No. 1 singles spot at the start of the season, and was the only player from Aspen to qualify for the 4A state championships last week in Pueblo.”It’s been amazing,” Kobuch said Monday. “I feel pretty proud. At the beginning of the season, just being No. 1 on the team was already pretty good for me. Winning all those matches was pretty cool, then going to regionals and qualifying for state, I said, ‘OK, I reached my goal and I’m happy no matter what happens at states.’

“After that first match, I just sat down and thought, ‘Wow, I’m at Aspen, I’m at states, and I just won my first match.'”She did much more than that. After her opening win Thursday in straight sets (6-1, 6-2) over Fossil Ridge’s Danielle Simeca, Kobuch drew Cheyenne Mountain’s Casey Wetzig in the 4A quarterfinals. She fell in straight sets (6-2, 6-3) but the loss wasn’t a complete loss, so to speak.Wetzig went on to win the 4A state title Friday – meaning Kobuch could continue through the playback bracket until she lost again.Kobuch won her ensuing match Friday morning, then faced off against Greeley West’s Mattison Sperry for a berth in the third-place pairing. Near the end of a grueling match that lasted more than three hours, Kobuch was on the brink of victory. She held a 5-4 lead with Sperry serving to her for game point in the third-set tiebreaker.The point she needed to win, however, proved elusive. Sperry tied the match, then rallied to win, 7-5. Sperry went on to win the ensuing match to finish on the 4A podium, while leaving Kobuch to wonder what could have been.

“I was really sad afterward,” Kobuch said. “Getting that far and losing is I think worse than losing really easily because it’s so close. All you need is one ball in the net, or one ball out, but it didn’t happen. I don’t know what it was, whether it was the pressure, or if I was afraid to win, or something else, but I couldn’t get that one point.”Point or no point, Skiers coach Scott Dorais couldn’t have been prouder of his best player. The same went for Kobuch’s host mother, Elizabeth Parker, who traveled to Pueblo to make up a loud one-person cheering section.”That was one of the best matches that I’ve ever seen,” Dorais said. “They weren’t pushing, and points weren’t being conceded. Every point was 10 to 15 hits.”The last point she played was as good as the first.”While she wasn’t sure what to expect before arriving in Pueblo, Kobuch comforted herself with the knowledge that she’d played in big tournaments before. The daughter of a tennis instructor, Kobuch started playing at the age of 3, and was one of the top-ranked juniors in southwestern France before she scaled back the hours she spent training in her teens.”I hadn’t played in that type of environment in a really long time, but it didn’t bother me,” she said. “When I was little, we had kind of the same thing as the regionals, and that was a pretty big deal. Going to states and seeing how they play the national anthem and how everyone is so excited – of course I was excited, too – but it seemed like everyone was making such a big deal out of it. But I didn’t mind it. I guess I knew it was going to be like that.”What Kobuch didn’t know before she arrived in Aspen was how much she’d fall in love with Colorado. She planned to return to France to continue her schooling; now she plans to go back home before returning to Colorado in the fall to attend the University of Denver.

She and Dorais are also looking into the possibility of her playing for the Pioneers tennis team.”She loves Colorado, and she wants to play on the team,” Dorais said. “They’ve got a pretty good program at DU there, and I think it will be a good fit.” For the near future, however, Kobuch plans to enjoy her final few weeks as an American high school student and tennis star.Playing for the Skiers was the best part of an unforgettable year in Aspen, she said.”I was pretty sad at the beginning of the year that tennis was a spring sport because I wanted to play right away,” Kobuch said. “I waited a couple of months, and we started, and it was actually better than I expected it to be. “It definitely helped me make friends. Everyone was really nice – especially when I went to states. Everyone made little posters and put them on my locker and just came up to me to wish me luck.”Nate Peterson’s e-mail address is

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