All for one, one for all

GJ tennis team leans on strong bonds as state tourney approaches

Grand Junction freshman Jacob Lapkin is still learning to play team tennis. Lapkin has been playing in United States Tennis Association tournaments as an individual for a number of years, but this is his first experience in a team setting. Lapkin plays No. 2 singles for the Tigers, who sent their whole team to state.

Grand Junction’s Spencer Weinberg is looking for a second state title in three years as the Class 5A tourney gets underway. Weinberg won the No. 1 singles crown as a sophomore.



Eighteen local players will compete in the Class 5A state boys tennis tournament, which takes place Thursday through Saturday at Gates Tennis Center in Denver.

Grand Junction qualified its entire team, and Fruita Monument qualified four positions. The following is a look at the players from both teams:

No. 1 singles

Spencer Weinberg, sr., Grand Junction

Dual record: 10-1. Regional finish: First.

First-round state opponent: Zach Inman, Pine Creek.

Weinberg is a two-time state finalist at No. 1 singles, winning as a sophomore and placing second as a junior.

Hayden Sabatka of Highlands Ranch, the returning state champion, is back, as are Denver East’s Matt Sayre (third) and Fairview’s Eli Winegardner (fourth). Weinberg lost to Sabatka, 6-1, 6-1 in last season’s final and could face Winegardner in the quarterfinals.

Weinberg did not play tennis for six months earlier this year as he rehabilitated from tendinitis in his right wrist.

He hopes his previous state experience will come in handy.

“I know what it’s like to win, and I know what it’s like to lose in the final,” Weinberg said. “Everything that happens is just bonus points. There’s nothing to lose.”

No. 2 singles

Jacob Lapkin, fr., Grand Junction

Dual record: 11-0. Regional finish: First.

Lapkin went undefeated in dual matches, and his only blemish is a tournament loss to Fairview’s Ignatius Castelino in the final of the Western Slope Open. Castelino placed second at state last season at No. 3 singles and again qualified for state.

Lapkin has played in USTA national tournaments and is adjusting to his first team tennis experience.

“Being a freshman, he’s coming in here getting used to high school tennis,” Tigers coach Carol Elliott said, “and getting used to playing points instead of just going out there and hitting, and I think he’s done a great job of learning how to play points and getting a lot smarter, so he’s come a long way.”

Matt Harris, soph., Fruita Monument

Dual record: 5-5. Regional finish: Second.

Harris is a first-time state qualifier. Last season, he lost to Grand Junction’s Tate Hegstrom in the regional semifinals and placed third, one place short of qualifying for state.

“It just made me want to work harder so that I could make it this year,” Harris said.

No. 3 singles

Caleb Gartner, sr., Grand Junction

Dual record: 11-0. Regional finish: First.

At last season’s state tournament, Gartner, along with Jacob Filutze, made it to the No. 1 doubles final.

But he’s learning to play solo.

It seems to be a wide-open field, as last season’s top four state placers graduated or moved to other flights.

“Caleb has never played singles before,” Elliott said, “so he’s getting comfortable being on the court by himself and learning how to play singles points, and he’s done a great job.”

No. 1 doubles

Jacob Filutze, sr., and Tate Hegstrom, sr., Grand Junction

Dual record: 10-1. Regional finish: First.

Filutze and Hegstrom have high hopes for a state finals appearance.

Filutze made the state final at No. 1 doubles with Caleb Gartner, losing 6-2, 6-4 to Cherry Creek. Hegstrom qualified for state last season at No. 3 singles, where Gartner now resides.

“We’re going for gold, and we’re ready, mentally and physically,” Hegstrom said.

They may be pressed by Arapahoe’s Zach Cohen and Jeff Craig, who are back after placing fourth at state. Also, Fairview’s Kevin Chen returns, this time with Tommy Mason. Chen and Brock Dehaven placed third last season.

Kelson Reimer, jr., and Taylor Scofield, jr., Fruita Monument

Dual record: 6-4. Regional finish: Second.

Last season, Reimer and Scofield were No. 4 doubles partners, placing third at regionals.

“We’ve improved mentally as far as not getting into ruts,” Scofield said. “And we haven’t had bad luck at the end of the season.”

No. 2 doubles

Aaron Gossage, soph., and Max Proietti, jr., Grand Junction

Dual record: 10-1. Regional finish: First.

Last season, Proietti placed fourth at No. 2 doubles with Daniel Ness, and Gossage was a state qualifier at No. 4 doubles.

This season, Gossage and Proietti teamed up to win the Western Slope Open.

No. 3 doubles

Matthew Prinster, jr., and Brian List, soph., Grand Junction

Dual record: 10-1. Regional finish: First

Last season, Prinster and Aaron Gossage won regionals at No. 4 doubles but did not place at state. List played junior varsity last year.

Their biggest test may come from Fairview’s Ben Krahenbuhl and Nick Blanco, who moved up to No. 3 doubles this year after winning the state title at No. 4 doubles last year.

Matt Bishop, sr., and Colton Reimer, fr., Fruita Monument

Dual record: 6-4. Regional finish: Second.

They qualified for state by defeating ThunderRidge in a second-place challenge match at the regional.

Bishop, also a wrestler, was on the junior varsity last season.

No. 4 doubles

Matthew Ness, soph., and Charlie Ruckman, soph., Grand Junction

Dual record: 10-1. Regional finish: First.

Last season, Ness at times played No. 4 doubles with Matthew Prinster, and Ruckman was a No. 2 singles player on junior varsity.

Ruckman and Ness placed third at the Western Slope Open.

James Stagg, soph., and Sam Graf, soph., Fruita Monument

Dual record: 7-3. Regional finish: Second.

Stagg played junior varsity last season, and as for Graf, “He didn’t even pick up a racket until two months ago,” Fruita Monument coach Clint Davis said at last weekend’s regional. “He’s a good baseball player, so that helped him to pick it up.”

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?”


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