All for one, one for all
GJ tennis team leans on strong bonds as state tourney approaches
They swim, meet for team dinners, toss around riddles and play cards, football and ultimate Frisbee.
All to help them play tennis.
“We’re probably the closest team out here,” Grand Junction High School senior No. 1 doubles player Jacob Filutze said during last week’s Class 5A Region 5 tournament. “Not many have the same bond we do.”
Grand Junction, which took first in all seven flights at the regional, has proved to be one of the top teams in the state, and it will have the chance to prove it again Thursday through Saturday at the 5A state tournament at Denver’s Gates Tennis Center.
The Tigers have No. 1 singles player Spencer Weinberg, a two-time state finalist. They have freshman phenom Jacob Lapkin, who moved in from Wyoming during the past year, at No. 2 singles. Their No. 1 doubles team of Filutze and Tate Hegstrom has a shot to make it to the final.
And their coach, Carol Elliott, is known in the Grand Junction tennis community as a coach who gets players to reach their potential.
But with defending champion Cherry Creek strong once again, can the Tigers win state?
“We’re going to go into it believing we can,” Elliott said. “Anything can happen as long as you have that belief and you get that doubt out of your head.”
Weinberg, for one, has flushed the setback of tendinitis out of his mind. The senior, who placed second at state last season and was a champion as a sophomore, did not play tennis for six months while he rehabilitated his wrist earlier this year.
Yet he still became a four-time regional champion.
“This has been the best four years,” Weinberg said, “and especially because of coach Elliott. All the credit goes to coach Elliott. Thanks to her, honestly.”
Elliott also worked with Lapkin, known for his extending points with lacing forehands. In part, she worked on Lapkin’s mental game.
“He’s definitely been coming to the net more, but not too much,” said Fruita Monument’s No. 2 singles player Matt Harris, who also qualified for state after placing second to Lapkin at regionals. “He’s more consistent, and he’s been hitting more winners.”
Lapkin previously played only in individual tournaments such as the USTA National Championship in Little Rock, Ark., when he was 12.
Grand Junction hopes the addition of Lapkin helps the Tigers improve on their third-place finish from last season’s state tournament, where they reached the semifinals in six flights and placed two — Weinberg and the No. 1 doubles team of Filutze and Owen Gardner, who was a senior — in the finals.
They’ll be hoping for an individual state champion as well.
And it partially comes down to drowning doubt, Elliott said.
“You have to be mentally strong and mentally tough,” she said. “I’ve been trying to teach them day by day you can’t let (doubt) happen. When it starts filtering in, you have to get it out of your head.”
Besides Harris, Fruita Monument qualified three doubles teams, including the No. 1 doubles team of Kelson Reimer and Taylor Scofield.
Wildcats coach Clint Davis briefly separated Reimer and Scofield from their No. 1 pairing. Then, at the Western Slope Open, in their third match of the season, Davis put them together again. They eventually defeated Columbine’s Calvin Buechler and Andy Leach, a tandem that also qualified for state.
“Then it was like, ‘OK, this is how it’s supposed to be,’ ” Davis said. “Why did we switch them in the first place?”