GRAND JUNCTION – An excited Montrose High School tennis team came home from the regional tournament in Grand Junction last Friday still a bit shocked. By capturing the regional titles in singles and doubles, the team will be sending five players to the class 4A State tournament. This was the best outing the tennis team had all season; it appears to have peaked at the right time.
The doubles team, composed of seniors Nick George and Rusty Penasa, beat Aspen in the finals 6-4, 7-6 to win the regional title in doubles and earn a spot at the state tournament. Singles player Joe Nunez, a senior, also won a regional title, defeating his Steamboat Springs opponent after three sets. The top two finishers in doubles and singles for the region qualify for state. The second place finish, by the doubles team of Alex McMichael (senior) and Chancy Dunn (junior), also a spot at the state tournament. The combined efforts of the two doubles teams, plus a singles win by Joe Nunez, gave the Montrose tennis team a third place finish overall at regionals. According to Head Coach Travis Hastings, this was the best Montrose has done at the regional tournament in years.
It was a day of “firsts” for the team, as Hastings has never had players win at regionals since he has been a coach at Montrose. Hastings has only been the coach for three years, and it has been long time since Montrose High School tennis sent a team to State.
“We cannot remember the last time the team won a regional title. It was pretty exciting to win the region,” Hastings said.
Nunez had an outstanding performance, playing his best tennis since being at Montrose High School, according to Hastings. He was mentally strong in the grueling three-set match against Steamboat in the finals on Friday night. Nunez won the first set 6-3, but Steamboat came back, winning the next set 2-6. Nunez was able to take the last set, 6-4, for the win. Hastings believes he was aided in the two and a half hour match by the team’s constant conditioning during the season.
“We are probably the best conditioned team in the state. When the Steamboat player was tired at the end, Joe was still focused. The longer it goes, the better they play,” Hastings said.
George and Penasa also had difficult matches at the tournament. According to Hastings, the weather was a nightmare on Thursday; the teams were only able to play for an hour before it started to rain. The teams took the courts again, at 1 p.m., but the doubles match for George and Penasa went until late in the afternoon and did not finish until later that night in cold weather. Hastings believes the weather actually gave the boys an advantage.
“We are used to playing in 20-to-30-degree weather and wind. It psyched out the other teams, and gave us a little edge, which was nice,” Hastings said.
The Nick George and Rusty Penasa duo defeated Steamboat and moved on to play an Aspen pair in the finals. They beat Aspen 6-4, 7-6, but it was not an easy win. The boys were down 5-1 in the second set, but made a huge comeback to win.
Although their doubles team did not play very well, according to George, he thought they were able to capitalize on the other team’s weaknesses.
“Our strength is taking control of the net. We are good at volleys and making the other team look bad. We did not play great against Aspen, but we made them play worse, which was how we won,” Nick George said.
George and Penasa have a strong partnership, and they enjoy playing together. According to Nick, Penasa is a skilled player, and he focuses on their mental game.
“I do not let Rusty get upset with himself, I have a lot of confidence, and we do not give up,” George said.
The regional victories will help the three Montrose players immensely in the state tournament. Montrose will be seeded in the top eight in the tournament out of sixteen teams. Montrose tennis players have in the past qualified in the bottom eight seeds, and had to play the top teams in the first round, according to Coach Hastings.
At the three-day tournament, which starts October 13, Montrose will face tough competition. Hastings believes the 4A division has the most competition because it also includes all the smaller schools in 2A and 3A, and only excludes the 5A schools. The five Montrose players will be battling in the first and second rounds today (Thursday). Friday and Saturday are semi-final and final rounds, respectively, as well as playback matches. Coach Hastings hopes his players will not only win their matches, but advance to the semi-final rounds.
“Our goals are shifting every year. The last couple of years it was just (to) qualify. This is probably the best talent we have had for awhile, but much of the team is going to be graduating,” Hastings said.
Four of the five state competitors for Montrose are seniors, and the fact that this state tournament will be the end of their high school tennis careers is definitely on their minds.
“I just want to play. I don’t care as much about winning or losing, but I want to play the best tennis we can for our last matches as seniors,” Nick George said.