Tennis reunion

Haebe returns to Taco Bell tourney for first time in 32 years

Ellen Haebe, left, returns a shot Friday as her partner, Julie Elliott, moves toward the center of the court during their women’s open doubles match at the Taco Bell Western Slope Open. Haebe, who went to high school in Grand Junction, is playing at Taco Bell for the first time in 32 years.



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Ellen Haebe, left, returns a shot Friday as her partner, Julie Elliott, moves toward the center of the court during their women’s open doubles match at the Taco Bell Western Slope Open. Haebe, who went to high school in Grand Junction, is playing at Taco Bell for the first time in 32 years.

A lot has happened in the past 30 years, but Ellen (Woomer) Haebe found out not much has changed with the Taco Bell Western Slope Open.

The Grand Junction native is back playing in the annual tennis tournament this week for the first time in 32 years.

“It’s funny because I remember some of the matches (in Taco Bell) 30 years ago,” Haebe said. “I wanted to come and see everybody. I haven’t seen the Elliotts in a long time. Usually when I come here, I come to visit my mom and don’t play tennis.

“It’s just like high school, she’s watched every match. It’s hard to get her out of here. She loves it.”

The Elliotts, who started the tournament more than 50 years ago, still organize and direct it, but the facilities have changed since Haebe last played in the Western Slope Open. The tournament is still played at the Elliott Tennis Center, but the courts are new.

Thirty years ago, the tournament took place at the Clinton Smith tennis courts at Lincoln Park, Bookcliff Country Club and the high schools. This year, the tournament is played at the Elliott Tennis Center and Canyon View Park.

“It’s sort of nostalgic coming back here, but it’s really good,” Haebe said. “They’ve done a really nice job with these facilities. It’s really nice.”

Haebe, 50, grew up in Grand Junction and played at Grand Junction High School. Kathy Elliott was her coach and Sandra Elliott was a teammate. Haebe graduated in 1981.

Sandra Elliott played No. 1 singles. Haebe played No. 1 doubles.

After high school, Haebe went to the University of Northern Colorado. She tried out for the team, but didn’t make it.

After she graduated from UNC with a teaching degree, she became a teacher for several years, got married and had children. She no longer played tennis.

Five years ago, with her children grown, she went to Thailand with her husband and started playing tennis again — 20 years after putting down her racket.

“When I went to Thailand, I wasn’t working so that’s when I started playing tennis again,” Haebe said. “It’s like roller skating. You don’t forget it, right?”

In fact, Haebe believes she’s basically the same player, just mentally more mature.

“I don’t think I’ve matured much (as a player),” Haebe said. “I think I play pretty much the same. The kids these days play with a lot more topspin than I ever did.”

The Haebes moved to Tucson for her husband’s job three years ago.

Now, Haebe plays frequently in U.S. Tennis Association Leagues. Her 4.0 team recently won the Arizona state tournament and qualified for sectionals in two weeks in Albuquerque, N.M.

“It’s kind of humiliating at first, but it comes back,” said Haebe of returning to tennis after a 20-year hiatus. “It’s good. I’m on a pretty good (USTA) team. We’re going to sectionals next week, which is really why I want to play here, because this elevation is very similar to Albuquerque.”

Haebe is playing in three events in the Western Slope Open, including women’s doubles with Julie Elliott.

“I was lucky to get Julie. That was a gift,” Haebe said. “She’s easy to play with. All I have to do is get it back and she will put it away at the net. If I can keep it in play, I know she’ll take care of it.”

Haebe is in the women’s open singles semifinals and is playing for second place in the women’s 4.5 doubles today.

No matter the result, she’s having so much fun, she’s planning on coming back for the tournament again.

“I’m coming back every year, this is a fun tournament,” Haebe said.

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