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Paonia tennis players eye state post-season

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Photo by Tamie Meck Students from Hotchkiss and Paonia combine to form the Paonia tennis team. Varsity players (from top, alternating left to right): Paonia seniors Emily Wilczek at three singles and Kelsey Stroud (2S), Hotchkiss senior McKenna Erickson (

Class 3A Region 8 tennis competition opens this Thursday at Canyon View Park in Grand Junction, and local teams are hoping to send players to the state tournament opening next Thursday in Greeley.

In its final competition ahead of the regional tournament, Aspen swept Paonia last Wednesday at Apple Valley Park, with two matches going into a tiebreaker. The two doubles team of Haley Park and Macy O'Rourke split sets, 7-5, 4-6, with a 4-10 tiebreaker loss. At two singles senior Kelsey Stroud split sets with the Skiers' Olivia Carr, 7-5, 4-6, then fell in a 10-7 tiebreaker.

The loss was the first of the season for Stroud, a fourth-year varsity player who joined the team as a freshman because it was "more of a laid-back sport." Stroud doesn't avoid intensity. She was a four-year softball player for Cedaredge (Paonia and Hotchkiss don't have softball programs) who earned all-conference honors. But she wanted to learn a life sport and to follow her family's footsteps and be able to play with her maternal grandmother.

Tennis has been anything but laid back. Stroud started at 4D and by her junior year was playing at 3S. Knowing many of her competitors are life-long players with professional coaches, she was a bit intimidated to be the team's No. 2 player, but she admits it's been fun.

A main goal this season is to improve her placement. "You can hit as hard as you want, but if you don't know how to place it, then it won't get you anywhere."

Her serve is her main strength and where she picks up a lot of her points. With some matches lasting up to three hours, "It's good to start off strong," she said.

Stroud said that she's excited to see how far she can go at regionals, where only the top two placers advance to state. Her 9-1 record should put her in a comfortable position in the opening rounds. Seeding will be announced today.

Last week's matches at Vail Mountain School were canceled due to snowy, cold weather. The girls were disappointed because they were looking forward to some great matches, said head coach Dee Holt.

It was the second time VMS canceled. "It'd be nice to get to play them," said 2D player Ashley Ziemer. They're a tougher team. And while a loss was likely, "It would definitely be good to see where we're at against them before we have to play them" at regionals.

Ziemer and partner Kambry Hall, are Hotchkiss High School juniors add third-year players who worked their way up from junior varsity. Last year Hall was the JV one singles player for Paonia, and Ziemer partnered with a senior at 4D. "We've jumped a lot" in one season, said Ziemer, something both credit to hard work, good challenge matches, and a lot of graduating seniors last season.

With five seniors, including all three singles players, on the team, their days of playing doubles are likely almost over. They take a 6-3 record into the regional tournament, and a lot of optimism. Both have a strong serve, and are working hard to improve their skills in the days leading to regionals.

"I'm still working on the net," and Hall.

"And I'm still working on the back," said Ziemer. They have their strengths and weaknesses, but "Come regionals I think we'll be stronger at both," added Ziemer.

Durango, a 6-1, 6-1 loss for the duo, was by far their toughest match this year.

But because Durango remained in Class 4A when the new Class 3A division was created last fall, that's the last they'll see of Durango. Other losses, both conference matches, were to Glenwood Springs, which went into a tiebreaker, and last week's 3-6, 4-6 loss to Aspen.

And while being in Class 3A helps their odds of getting to state, it's still going to be a battle, said Hall. "I think it increases our chances a little bit, but maybe not as drastically as ... we had hoped," finished Ziemer. With schools like Aspen, Vail Mountain in the mix, it's possibly one of the strongest regions in the state, especially considering Steamboat Springs, which routinely wins the regional title, also dropped to 3A. Steamboat and Paonia don't play during the regular season, so they haven't yet seen their competition.

One singles senior Mckenna Erickson takes a 5-3 record into the tournament, and 3S senior Emily Wilczek has a 6-3 record following her 1-6, 3-6 loss to Aspen. In doubles action, the 2D team of Macy O'Rourke and Haley Park also have a 6-3 record heading into regional play. At 3D, Jackie Mora and Jay Phillips are at 5-4, and the 4D team of Kaylee Carpenter and Ikechi Elendu are 3-5.

First-round matches begin at 9 a.m. Thursday. All matches are held at Canyon View Park.

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