Vail Mountain School takes fifth at state tennis tournament
No. 3 doubles becomes first team in program history to make state final
Vail Mountain School’s girls tennis program continued the 2022 theme: making history. For the first time, the program — which pulls athletes from all five of the area’s schools — put athletes into ‘championship Saturday’ matches at the Colorado 3A state tennis tournament this past weekend.
“Incredible few days at states,” head coach Hillary McSpadden stated, noting that the tournament’s first two days were characterized by brutal winds featuring 40-50 mph gusts.
“You can’t imagine how hard it is to play in that wind,” assistant coach Steve McSpadden stated.
“I think wind evens the playing field a lot — everyone has the same issue,” said Hillary, noting how footwork, timing of the serve, as well as the drastic difference when switching sides between sets are all directly impacted by the weather.
The podium positions were claimed on the doubles side, led by Jenna Elalayli and Juliet Studness, who advanced to Saturday’s final, ultimately claiming second.
“Hillary is the master at knowing who to put in and who to pair up in the doubles,” said Steve of his wife.
“You have nine players and trying to put the right one in doubles — it’s so important.”
“We have depth all the way through, which is great, but doubles keeps us in the game, for sure,” Hillary reiterated.
Playing No. 3 doubles, Elalayli and Studness won 6-1, 6-0 in the first round before taking down Colorado Academy 5-7, 6-2, 6-3 in the quarterfinals. The semifinal match against St. Mary’s Academy took place under the lights as the day’s final match. Appropriately, it was an arduous battle demonstrating the grit and endurance of the Vail Christian (Studness) and VMS (Elalayli) duo, who won 7-5, 6-7, 7-5 .
“They were pretty exhausted, but they pulled through,” Hillary stated.
“They’re the type of team that really supports each other and has fun; even when they’re down, they’re trying to pull each other up. They have a very good chemistry, and I think that’s why they got to the finals.”
They eventually fell to D’Evelyn 6-1, 6-1 in the championship.
No. 4 doubles Anna Baker and Kamryn Mitchell won in straight sets through the first two rounds before falling to D’Evelyn 5-7, 6-3, 6-1 in the semifinals. They defeated Eaton in the first playback, setting up a match against Peak to Peak for a shot at third place.
“They fought and fought,” Hillary said of the third-place game. After winning 6-3 in the first set, the pair trailed 4-1 in the second before rallying to tie it up 6-6. They ended up winning 12-10 in the tiebreaker.
“Unbelievable tennis,” Hillary summarized.
After their main draw loss, No. 1 doubles Gracie and Jesse Allen were slated with the most unlikely pairing for the bronze medal: their region rivals from Steamboat Springs. Before walking onto the court, Gracie grabbed her little sister’s hand and said, “Come on sis, we’re going to do this.”
“It’s like emotional,” Hillary said of the moment. The sisters won 6-3, 6-0 to claim third.
“They went out on top — how amazing that is with your sister because you’ll never have that opportunity again.”
No. 2 doubles Sofia Brunner and Aria Webster took fourth to round out the doubles matches.
“They played a really strong team,” Hillary said of the final game. “That was probably some of the best tennis they saw the whole tournament.
VMS’s singles athletes played strongly, too. Talented and skilled enough to match up with most in their main draws, the proverbial chips just didn’t fall into place as weather, health, and bad bounces all stacked up against the Gore Rangers.
“It could have gone either way,” Hillary said of one particular athletes’ match before adding, “and that’s how a lot of the games were.”
No. 1 singles Catherine Dawsey was ousted in the first round 7-5, 6-3 to Lena Crotty of Peak to Peak, a match where “every game was deuce,” according to both coaches.
“It seemed like everything was against her that day which is a drag because she’s had a really good season,” said Hillary of her best player. Crotty lost in the second round, meaning that Dawsey was eliminated from a playback opportunity as well.
“She’s a very smart player and knows what to do, so it was hard to see her lose in the first round because she really wanted to help the team out and get a round or two under her belt,” Hillary said.
Both coaches noted the senior kept a team-first, positive attitude after the undesired close to her career.
“She’s truly a leader at heart. She really brought the girls together every year. Everyone on the team loved watching her play,” Hillary said.
“She’s a fighter and probably the best competitor. The ability to come back and stay in a match — you know, you can be down 5-0 and still win a match, and she did that several times.”
Annika Iverson lost in the quarters of the main draw to the eventual state champion, an opponent both coaches felt Iverson was evenly matched against.
“She’s a great kid; she fights to the very end,” Steve said of the junior.
“She was upset to lose that match.”
In the playbacks, Iverson’s ability to “play a lot of lines” was particularly hindered by the gusty winds. The ambitious homeschooler, who went hoping to make the state final, appears motivated to target the same goal in her senior year.
“She came back at the end of the day after she was upset and worked through the result and said, ‘Next year — look out,’” Steve relayed.
“And that’s the kind of kid she is — and she will do it.”
Summer Sveum had a grinding three-set win in the first round of the No. 3 singles position before falling to Isabella Guzman 6-4, 7-6 in the quarterfinals.
“She had a really good season — she really grew,” Hillary said of the sophomore.
“She’s super coachable. We worked on the same thing I worked on with Catherine, which is having a strategy. Having a plan before you serve or return a serve, and that’s to know your player’s weaknesses and pick on it. She was one of the best at executing a strategy.”
The Gore Rangers placed fifth in the state out of 28 teams, tallying 31 points. D’Evelyn won the overall title handily with 89 points. VMS dominated the 3A region 8 meet last week, sweeping all seven slots — the first time such a feat has been done. Coming off its most successful season to date, the question of whether or not the mountain town’s athletes can mix things up with teams from the Front Range appears to have an answer.
“I would say, we’ve arrived, and believe me, Vail Mountain, they won’t forget we were down there at that tournament — I promise you,” Steve stated.