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Paonia qualifies five for state tennis meet

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Photo by Tamie Meck Paonia two doubles player Haley Park lobs the ball against Delta Saturday in the third place match of the 3A Region 8 tournament as teammate Macy O'Rourke backs her up. Park and O'Rourke won the match, and a challenge match, to qualify

The Paonia tennis team qualified a singles player and two doubles teams for the Class 3A state tennis tournament in Greeley. This is the most players a Delta County team has qualified for state in a single season, and the first time Paonia has qualified doubles teams for state.

At two singles, senior Kelsey Stroud was 9-1 and seeded fourth heading into the tournament. Stroud opened with a 6-0, 6-0 win over Cortez. In quarterfinals Stroud lost, 6-0, 6-0, to No. 1 seed Maddie Thompson, a two-time singles state qualifier from Steamboat Springs.

In consolation finals, Stroud faced Aspen's Olivia Carr, to whom she'd lost to in a 7-10 tiebreaker two weeks earlier, winning in straight sets, 6-2, 6-2. Stroud then challenged Grace Andrews of Vail Mountain for second place, splitting the first two sets, 2-6, 6-3, before winning the third set, 6-4.

The one doubles team of Kambry Hall and Ashley Ziemer opened the tournament Friday with an endurance-testing 7-6 (10-8), 0-6, 7-5 win over Aspen, a team they'd narrowly lost to just two weeks earlier. In semifinals Hall and Ziemer defeated Vail Mountain, 6-4, 7-6 (7-2). "They weren't even ranked," said head coach Dee Holt of the Hotchkiss juniors.

In finals they faced the No. 1 seed, Steamboat Springs, placing second after a 6-1, 6-2 loss.

In the two doubles match for third place, Delta's Kaleigh Nethington and Pascalina Early split sets with Macy O'Rourke and Haley Park of Paonia, 6-2, 3-6, with Paonia winning the third set, 6-3.

"I think that we kind of came in with a little too much confidence," said Park. They didn't have any trouble winning the first set, but after dropping the second set, they decided they weren't going to end their careers on this game.

O'Rourke and Park then won a challenge match for second place against Vail Mountain School, 6-2, 6-4. They said they were confident heading into the match after having played a close match against Aspen, which had beat VMS 6-0, 6-0.

On Friday, O'Rourke and Park set the tone for the tournament, opening with a 6-2, 6-3 win over Steamboat Springs. They were down, 4-0, in the second set. Paonia then won six straight sets for the win. "Six in a row," said O'Rourke with a smile.

Park and O'Rourke, both fourth-year seniors, said that while this is their first year as a doubles team, they communicate well and encourage each other when it's needed. "We definitely feed off of each other's energy," said Park. That's the good thing about having a partner. "If one of us is down, they really can bring the team down."

They are also grateful for their toughest competitors of the season: Hall and Ziemer. "It's friendly competition, but I think that playing them has pushed us as players and has pushed them as players," said Park.

And they share credit for getting to state with first-year head coach Dee Holt, who has also been the team's assistant coach for several years. "It's been really nice to have Dee as our coach," said Park. "Strategically she's really good. She's able to say, 'they're hitting in this corner,' or 'they're hitting in that corner.'"

She also understands that everyone has bad days, said O'Rourke. Both also sing in the swing choir, which is directed by Holt.

"We always call her 'Mom,'" said Park.

This year has been good for the whole team, they said before heading into their challenge match. "We're all in this together. And if we don't make state, as long as someone on the team does, that's an accomplishment."

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