Friends and fun

Mixed doubles play lets high school pals team up at Western Slope Open

Daniel Lastine, left, hits an overhead smash Tuesday as his mixed doubles partner, Amber Skillicorn, right, watches at the Western Slope Open. High school players like Lastine and Skillicorn don’t get to play mixed doubles much, so they enjoy it when they get the chance

Max Nikkari, right, serves as his mixed doubles partner, Alex Jo Willms, left, waits for the return on Tuesday during the pair’s 6-3, 6-2 loss to Daniel Lastine and Amber Skillicorn at the Western Slope Open at the Elliott Tennis Center.

Daniel Lastine took aim at the shallow lob and ripped it.

The overhead smash breezed by Alexa Jo Willms for a winner.

Lastine and his mixed doubles partner, Amber Skillicorn, smiled at each other and exchanged high-fives.

The two teamed up Tuesday to beat Willms and Max Nikkari in the 16-18 year-old Australian mixed doubles division, 6-3, 6-2.

For high school players, mixed doubles is a rare opportunity, except in tournaments like the Western Slope Open.

“It’s really fun, a new experience, it’s just a lot of fun getting out there and playing doubles with the girls,” Lastine said.

On one return, Lastine, at the net, lunged across in front of Skillicorn to slap a winner down the line.

Skillicorn gave him a hard time but just jokingly.

“I’m usually the more aggressive player when I play with my (female) partners, so it’s interesting, but guys just have a more aggressive style of play,” she said.

The win puts the Skillicorn/Lastine team in the today’s finals against Julianna Campos and Jackson Cesark, who defeated Isabel Manzanares and Riley King,  6-2, 4-6, 10-2.

Skillicorn and Lastine have played well together this summer, winning a mixed doubles tournament in Pueblo a few weeks ago.

Lastine admits that the guys try and tone down the intensity at times, then he gave a sheepish smile about that overhead smash..

“You try not to hit anyone, you try to be nice, but I did hit an overhead smash that was a little close,” he said. “You still try to win, sometimes it’s hard to keep your intensity up.”

Campos agreed.

“I think it’s less competitive, not as much pressure, but it’s still fun,” she said.

Cesark agreed but said there’s a time to turn up the heat.

“When I feel the need to, I take it easier, but when it’s a tough game like this one was, I had to do what I had to do and hit it a little harder,” he said.

Mixed doubles also lets male and female friends play together.

Like Campos, who goes to Grand Junction High School, and Cesark, a Fruita Monument player.

“We’ve played together the last couple of summers and it’s always fun,” Cesark said.

Willms said mixed doubles is a way to build friendships.

“It’s so fun, especially because Max and I are friends outside of tennis but we’ve never been super, super close, so I think this has brought us even closer,” she said.

Willms also said she doesn’t mind when the guys are overly aggressive.

“It is hard but they don’t take it easy and I’m OK with that,” she said. “It gets you ready for tougher competition and I think you get more out of it.”

And when she nails a return off a really hard serve from a guy, it’s a bonus.

“It feels really nice, like ‘I didn’t know I could do that,’ ” she said, smiling.

As a Fruita Monument teammate of one of the best high school girls tennis players on the Western Slope, Skillicorn said she’s used to hard serves.

“Sarah Fleming’s serve is basically just as hard as a lot of the guys but guys play with that different kind of style,” she said.

For the high school players at the Western Slope Open, playing mixed doubles might be a little less intense than other competitive divisions but they all agree that it’s about having fun and playing with your friends.

“Daniel is my best friend so it’s a lot of fun,” Skillicorn said.


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