Pressure-packed performers: Tigers show their stuff, qualifying for state at six of seven positions

Grand Junction’s Nicky arja, front, and Emma Holt were one of four Tigers doubles teams to qualify for the Class 5A state tournament Friday. The No. 3 doubles team defeated Fruita Monument’s McKenzie Kimball and Emily McGovern 4-6, 6-4, 6-3. Grand Junction also qualified two of its three singles players for next weekend’s tournament.

Something was different Friday during the Class 5A Region 1 girls tennis tournament at Canyon View Park.

The carefree, relaxed atmosphere was gone, replaced with the intensity that comes with knowing the season is on the line with every serve and groundstroke.

“You try not to think of it as any different, but it’s there,” Grand Junction No. 3 singles player Samantha Weinberg said. “Our goal the whole season is to make it to state and this is where you make that happen.”

The state tennis tournament begins Thursday at Gates Tennis Center in Denver.

Arapahoe won the team title with 69 points and Grand Junction was second with 57 points, but qualified for state at six of seven positions.

Grand Junction coach Carol Elliott said the Tigers spent the entire season trying to mentally prepare to perform in pressure situations.

“We put a lot of pressure on them in practice,” Elliott said. “If you get used to playing with pressure, it’s easy to get out here and play.”

Of the Tigers’ six spots to advance to the state tournament, three came by winning regional titles.

Grand Junction got wins at No. 1 doubles, where Emmie Madison and Madison Gurley defeated Arapahoe’s Hailey Johnson and Lara McDougald 7-6, 6-4.

“We had two really good matches, because both Fruita and Arapahoe were really tough,” Gurley said. “The level we played at is going to really help our confidence.”

The Tigers also got a big win at No. 2 doubles, where Margeaux Prinster and Kylie Pond overcame a 5-2 first-set deficit to win 7-6, 6-1 over Arapahoe’s Kelly Ervine and Rachel Severson.

Grand Junction’s gritty doubles play continued with its No. 3 team of Emma Holt and Nicky Arja, who outlasted Fruita Monument’s McKenzie Kimball and Emily McGovern 4-6, 6-4, 6-3.

Kimball and McGovern swept the regular-season dual matches against Grand Junction, but Arja and Holt responded with the state berth on the line.

“We actually started believing in ourselves,” Arja, a sophomore said. “There was a bunch of pressure but we knew we could do it if we kept pushing.”

Other Grand Junction players to qualify for state were Weinberg, Alex Proietti (No. 2 singles) and Anna McGinnis and Stephanie Skinner (No. 4 doubles).

“We talk about perseverance, confidence and being prepared, and they did that all the way through,” Elliott said. “We played two great days of tennis.”

Fruita Monument didn’t quite have the regional tournament it was hoping for, but qualified for state at two positions.

Janine Kirtland finished second at No. 1 singles, losing to Sarah Ray of Arapahoe 6-3, 7-5 in the final, and the No. 3 doubles team of Kimball and McGovern also qualified.

“It’s really exciting but we are going to get a lot of rest,” Kimball said. “Emily has a hurt shoulder, so we want to heal up, and get our confidence up by state.”

Fruita Monument finished third as a team with 44 points. The Wildcats had opportunities at No. 2 singles with Channing Hayward and No. 1 doubles with Grace Gaglione and Kenyon Hayward, but both lost in playbacks.

“We look at state as a reward,” Fruita Monument coach Clint Davis said. “So when we get over there we just want to play loose and relaxed.”

Central finished fourth with 29 points, placing third in three brackets, including Katie Murphy at No. 3 singles. All three of the Warriors’ singles players are underclassmen.

“They were a lot more competitive today,” Central coach David Elliott said. “They were ready to play today and wanted to get a shot at state. It didn’t happen, but we are going to take this and use it for next year.”


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