GJ, Fruita players hope to make most of trip to state tourney
Grand Junction High School tennis coach Carol Elliott thinks the Tigers’ double teams can compete at the Class 5A boys state tennis tournament, which begins today at Gates Tennis Center in Denver.
Grand Junction, ranked No. 7 in 5A in the most recent CHSAANow.com rankings, qualified three of its four doubles teams and all three singles players with a dominant showing last week in the regional tournament at the Elliott Tennis Center. The Tigers won the Region 4 team championship and crowned two singles and three doubles champions.
Elliott said she’s confident her doubles teams can compete at state.
“The teams at state are solid all the way through,” Elliott said, “but our guys are great. Our ones and twos have the ability to go down their and compete. All our teams have that ability when they pick each other up and work together.”
Fruita Monument had state qualifiers in four flights: No. 1 singles and Nos. 1, 3 and 4 doubles. The Wildcats’ lone regional championship came from its No. 3 doubles team.
“If we can get a beatable opponent, we’d sure like to win some matches,” Fruita Monument coach Clint Davis said. “We’ve been building to this all season, and our guys are playing their best tennis right now.”
The Class 5A state qualifiers from the Grand Valley are:
No. 1 Singles
Jacob Lapkin, soph., Grand Junction
Lapkin is 15-2 this season, and he has won nine straight matches, the past eight without losing a set. Lapkin cruised through the Region 4 tournament, where he beat Monarch’s Jason Ferry 6-3, 6-1, and fellow state qualifier and rival Matt Harris of Fruita Monument, 6-4, 6-1. His first-round opponent is Chatfield’s John Koza (10-1).
■ Previous state experience: Lapkin made a quarterfinal exit as the Tigers’ No. 2 singles player last fall, beating Andrew Gillete from Arvada West 6-0, 6-1, before falling to Boulder’s Jackson Hawk 6-4, 7-6. Hawk also is in the No. 1 singles bracket this year but on the opposite side of Lapkin.
■ Lapkin says: “My goals are really to get past the first two rounds, and if I can do that, I can be confident for the rest of the tournament. I feel like all the kids there play like Matt (Harris), so if I play like I did during the championship match, I should be OK.”
■ Elliott says: “He’s a sophomore, and he’s got a lot of weapons. We’re working on his mentals. He’s a very positive kid that has a lot of potential to do some good things at state. Hopefully, this being his second year at state, he can use some of that experience under his belt.”
Matt Harris, jr., Fruita Monument
As the second Region 4 qualifier, Harris was paired against Mountain Vista’s Vignesh Senthilvel (11-1) in the first round at state. Harris (5-8) lost in the regional final to Lapkin, and Senthilvel handed Lapkin one of his two losses this season.
■ Previous state experience: Harris qualified in No. 2 singles in 2012, topping Nathan Miller of Liberty in the first round before falling to Fairview’s Ignatious Castelino 6-0, 6-0.
■ Harris says: “I’m just glad I qualified, and hopefully I can win a few matches.”
■ Davis says: “What really helps is him going to state last year. He did win a match at state last year, and he’ll be ready. The atmosphere is unique, but it’ll be something that he’s ready for.”
No. 2 singles
Daniel Ness, sr., Grand Junction
Ness (17-2) has battled through bouts of what he calls “weak play and inconsistency” this season, but the Tigers’ No. 2 singles player found his rhythm at the regional, winning the final 6-1, 1-0 after his opponent, Monarch’s Jason Nguyen, retired. Ness, a senior, has a 3-2 record against opponents in the state No. 2 singles bracket. Ness opens with Boulder’s Cutter Esson, who picked up a three-set win over Nguyen in September.
■ Previous state experience: None.
■ Ness says: “I’ve done what I’ve wanted to do so far, but I still have a ways to go to get where I want to go. I want to win. It’s my senior year. I want to play the best tennis that I can and enjoy it while I can.”
■ Elliott says: “Daniel peaked really well at the Western Slope Open. We’ve had some ups and downs since then, but he’s putting it into gear again. He’s starting to believe in his game, like he should, and I’m excited to see where Daniel can take us.”
No. 3 singles
Aaron Gossage, jr., Grand Junction
Gossage (16-1) took second place at the regional after a back-and-forth loss in the final against Monarch’s Derek Wright, 6-7 (7-5), 6-4, 6-4. Other than the loss to Wright, Gossage has dominated opponents from all over the state. Gossage plays Erich Nuss (10-1) of Regis Jesuit in the first round at state.
■ Previous state experience: Gossage and now No. 1 doubles player Max Proietti made a semifinal run as the Tigers’ No. 2 doubles team in 2012. They fell 6-4, 6-4 to the eventual state champions from Cherry Creek.
■ Elliott says: “Aaron plays very well, he hits very well, and he has a lot of weapons. His mental game is very strong, and we know he’ll be ready to go.”
No. 1 doubles
Matt Prinster, sr./Max Proietti, sr., Grand Junction
Prinster and Proietti are 18-1 and lost a total of five sets as they’ve breezed through a variety of competition from across the state. Their opening-round opponents, Fort Collins’ Tony Steinle and T.J. Ascough (19-4), lost to the same Fossil Ridge duo that handed Prinster and Proietti their only loss.
■ Previous state experience: Proietti made it to the No. 2 doubles semifinals in 2012 with Gossage, but they lost to Cherry Creek, then dropped their consolation match and didn’t place. Prinster played with teammate Brian List in No. 3 doubles and lost in the semifinals to eventual state champion Cherry Creek. Prinster and List ended up placing fourth.
■ Prinster says: “We just need to play our best and see what happens. We definitely want to finish in the top three.”
■ Proietti says: “We just need to be there for each other through the whole thing. We know how hard we’ve practiced and worked to make it to state.”
■ Elliott says: “They have the skills to do damage at state if they make sure to pick each other up as they play.”
Gabe Treider, jr./Kelson Reimer, sr., Fruita Monument
Treider and Reimer (8-5) fell in the final of the Region 4 tourney to Prinster and Proietti. Treider and Reimer open state play against Denver East’s Conor Wulf and Connor Lewis, who were beaten by Prinster and Proietti 6-2, 6-2 in September.
■ Previous state experience: Reimer returns to the No. 1 doubles bracket where he teamed with Taylor Scofield last year and made a first-round exit.
■ Davis says: “(They’re) guys with all the talent in the world, but they also have ability to play down to their competition. But with the level of competition being what it is, I envision them playing close.”
No. 2 doubles
Brian List, jr./Matthew Ness, jr., Grand Junction
List and Ness (17-2) lost only five games in their two wins en route to the regional title. They will face Pine Creek’s Ryan Coyle and Rylan Raag (8-0) in the first round at state.
■ List says: “It’ll be great because it’s a bonding activity. We’ve become good friends through this, and it’ll be fun to play on a big stage like that with a friend.”
■ Ness says: “We need to make sure everything is working between us and maintain our focus. We’ve played some of the better teams in the state and maybe not done so well because we lost our focus.”
■ Elliott says: “They have a lot of experience for us, and they really have great chemistry. They work well together and are able to pick each other up when one of them is playing poorly. They both have great hands, and I’m really excited to see what they can do at state.”
No. 3 doubles
Sam Graf, jr./Colton Reimer, soph., Fruita Monument
Graf and Reimer (11-2) claimed the Wildcats’ one regional title. They will face Poudre’s Josh Goodard and Spencer Zweifel (7-4) in their state opener.
■ Previous state experience: Reimer made it to state with Matt Bishop in No. 3 doubles in 2012. They lost their first-round match. Graf teamed with James Stagg in No. 4 doubles last year, and they lost to the eventual state champion Cherry Creek in the first round.
■ Reimer says: “We definitely need to win a match at state. I went to last year with a different partner, and we lost in the first round. After that first-round win, I just kind of want to see what happens.”
■ Davis says: “They were blessed with a nice draw at regionals and just kept on winning. They’re our best chance to score some points at state because they won the regional and have to open against another regional’s second-place finisher.”
No. 4 doubles
Ben Arja, jr./Ian Hegstrom, soph., Grand Junction
Arja and Hegstrom (10-2) faced all local competition to win the Region 4 title, but they faced a wide range of competition at various levels before settling together. Hegstrom played some No. 3 doubles, and Arja logged matches at No. 3 singles and No. 3 doubles. They open state against Keegan Hofer and Warren Hartzler from Heritage.
■ Previous state experience: None.
■ Elliott says: “Both of them are young, but they both have a lot of experience playing doubles for us. They’re great together and really have a ton of confidence at the net.”
Blaine McCormick, jr./Ben Bishop, jr., Fruita Monument
McCormick and Bishop (5-2) open against Denver East’s Ben Colson and Jonny Cook, a duo that topped Tigers’ Arja and Hegstrom 6-3, 6-4 in September.
■ Previous state experience: None.
■ Davis says: “Four doubles had been rough until we paired Ben with Blaine. When Ben started playing with him they really connected, and I’m excited to have them emerge. For some reason they’re great together.”