ERIE — Alex Ailey and Derek Sorenson embarked on the 2017 season with an opportunity to accomplish something no Erie boys tennis player has ever done.
That meant they'd need to find a way out of the brutal Class 4A Region 5 tournament and into the field at the 4A state tournament. Given the caliber of teams competing in their region, it was never much of a certainty that Ailey and Sorenson could muster the level of play they'd need in order to accomplish their lofty goal.
By the end of the Region 4 tournament, Ailey and Sorenson had successfully turned doubt into certainty by finishing second at No. 2 doubles. Now, for certain, Ailey and Sorenson have become the first players in Erie Tigers history to qualify for the state tournament.
"This was my big goal coming into the year and it's great to see it actually happen," Ailey said. "I wasn't sure it would ever happen so it feels great."
Sorenson added, "This is pretty surprising. I always thought that we had a shot but the further we got into the season, the more we realize what we had to bring to make it happen. Once we got to regionals and could see the road to state, it became real."
In what has truly become a breakthrough season for the Erie tennis program, Ailey and Sorenson won't be the only Tigers playing at state this fall.
Not long after the Tigers No. 2 doubles pair locked up a state tournament berth, No. 1 doubles pair Trevor Winterton and Nash Phillips won a length three-set match, 6-4, 4-6, 6-1 over a pair from Centaurus. That concluded a playback match for the second and final No. 1 doubles state bid out of Region 4.
The Tigers lost several close playback matches for state berths at regional in 2016. Having come so close the year before, Tigers head coach Doug Simpkins correctly expected at least a couple of his players to break through in 2017.
"The way last year ended for us, it became our team goal to get our first tennis players to state," Simpkins said. "We knew that our competition level was there and it's working out nicely for us right now. We finished this season with four team wins and we came into regionals really confident and that's really paid off."
The Class 4A state tournament will be held at Pueblo City Park and will begin on Thursday. When it does, four Tigers will not only make their state tournament debuts but will debut their program on Colorado prep tennis' big stage.