Longtime friends Taylor Hays and Elias Schendler had never played competitive tennis before joining the Basalt High School team this fall. The freshmen landed together at No. 4 in doubles and little did they know they would eventually make history for a program still in its infancy.
By qualifying for this week’s Class 4A Boys State Tournament in Pueblo, the Longhorn duo are the first of four BHS tennis years to qualify for the season finale.
“It was a little surprising since it was our first two years playing tennis,” Hays said. “It is a great achievement that we are the first to announce this program. Hopefully there will be more. »
Basalt men’s tennis started with five players as a club in 2017. It was the flagship project of Dane Elliott, then a junior, who was a senior a year later when the club became an official university program. Dane’s mother, Diana Elliott, had started the BHS women’s tennis team, which played its first college matches in the spring of 2017 and is still seeking its first state qualifier.
Diana Elliott retired from training after the spring 2021 season, which was the last semester for her daughter, Mari Elliott, the team’s No. 1 singles player and class valedictorian of the year. last. Chris Kilgore, a local teacher who grew up in Atlanta and has lived in the Valley since last summer, took over BHS tennis this fall.
“I’m really grateful to Jason Santo, the DA, and Diana Elliott, the coach who built the programs, for entrusting me with this,” Kilgore said. “Having these guys for three more years, they can hopefully step up and recruit younger guys and build excitement for the program. That’s the whole idea.
The BHS Boys program has continued to grow each year, starting with these five club players in 2017 through to 19 players this season, most of them freshmen. However, entering the fourth season of varsity, one thing the Basalt program was still missing was its first state qualifier – regionals had always proven too difficult for the upstart team.
But thanks to a rally last week at Grand Junction regionals, Hays and Schendler reunite as Longhorn trailblazers who will represent the school at the state tournament beginning Thursday.
” It’s awesome. Tennis is not our main sport. We both play other sports and our main focus is on that. So it came out of nowhere,” said Schendler, who like Hays also plays basketball and baseball. “A lot of things had to be right for us to report. After losing a game on the first day, our chances were pretty low. So when we did, it was crazy.
Players qualify for the state by finishing in the top two at regionals. As the No. 4 seed of six teams competing at No. 4 doubled last week at Grand Junction, Hays and Schendler looked strong early on, earning a 6-0, 6-2 victory over Vail Christian in the first tower. But they lost in the semis, 6-1, 6-1, to a duo from Grand Junction Central, who then won the regional against Durango.
This was key, as it meant the Basalt duo were able to battle under the support and qualify. They beat a pair from Grand Junction in the third-place game before playing Durango for second, with the winner advancing to the state.
It took three sets, but the Longhorns ultimately prevailed to make program history.
“It was a great way to earn their place in the state by playing the best game of tennis they’ve ever played,” Kilgore said. “These guys came out and won the first set, but then things went wrong in the second set and Durango equalized. Elias and Taylor remained calm and composed and managed to do so in the third set.
They’re the only state qualifiers out of the Valley this fall, as perennial regional powerhouse Aspen didn’t finish a top-two player in Grand Junction. The Skiers had a few doubles teams that finished third and are therefore state alternates, but they will not compete without any other teams withdrawing.
Hays and Schendler will open play Thursday against the Pueblo West pair of Jesus Ildefonso and Zion Spear. The tournament will take place on the league matches on Saturday.
“One thing that’s great about Elias and Taylor is that they’re incredibly coachable,” Kilgore said. “They keep their cool. They kind of take each step as the next step. We don’t make much of going to the state. It’s just the next thing. We’re going to go, they’re going to keep having fun and keep playing tennis.