Last season was a good one for the Dawson School girls tennis team. They qualified their entire varsity team and played in all seven brackets in the Class 3A state tournament, resulting in a third-place finish with a strong showing in Greeley last May.
Returning to the courts for the preseason last week, the team knows there is a different feel heading into the 2020 season, one that expects to have them in the hunt for a state title.
“I think we’re feeling really good,” Dawson’s Aria Barbour said. “Everyone is excited to get on the courts and to do their best. We do our best every year, but I have a special feeling about this year.”
A big reason for that is the talent from last year’s team that returns, led by a strong senior core at the top of the lineup.
Barbour played in the No. 2 singles slot last season and made a run to the championship match at the state tournament before bowing out. She will be one of the top singles players on the ladder for Dawson this year along with fellow senior Bridget Bell, who played in the top singles spot last year. The two see Alexis Gillio return this week to join them, and she is the presumed No. 3 singles player again this year.
In addition to returning its top three singles players, Dawson will see many doubles pairs back, including the No. 1 doubles team of Victoria Joris and Eloise Shehan who made it to the championship match at state. Sofia Veraza and Anna Wittenberg are back after being paired in No. 3 doubles, as are Alayna Cash and Diana Grigore, the No. 4 doubles pair from last season.
Not only does the team have plenty of returning talent, but some eyes have been caught by newcomers who have joined the team and will give them some depth in the lineup.
“We definitely do have a lot of fantastic returning players, but I think we like the looks of everybody new that’s coming in,” Bell said. “We’re all just having fun playing tennis as a group. We’re excited to play together, wherever it takes us.”
Barbour and Bell look to lead by example and have put in time on the courts to go further in the postseason this spring. For Barbour, that means playing her heart out and giving everything she can on the court.
“You have to be able to grind your way through it,” Barbour said. “Running through every ball is a big thing for me, especially as a senior. I just have to stay with it.”
Bell, who won an individual state title early in her high school career and is looking for her second, is working on her attention in every part of the match with a razor-sharp focus.
“You have to take advantage of every opportunity you have to take, whether it be a ball, a game, or playing with friends,” Bell said. “You have to live in the moment and have fun while doing it.”
Winning is important, but far from the only thing that matters to the Dawson program.
The bubbly personalities on the team bring a positive energy and a main goal of having fun and doing their best, and while the team is shooting for success on the court, they will not do so at the cost of their integrity and example they pass down on themselves and others they play.
“There are two tenants that we play by. We play by example and lead by example,” Bell said. “We have a really great group in our class who have been performing at a high level for a long time… but it’s not only the playing component, it’s being morally sound. Our greatest accomplishments as a team has been our run with the sportsmanship awards. I think playing by example and acting morally through example is one of the defining things about this team.”
And now, Dawson hopes that putting it all together will lead to a special ending in May.
“Every year, we put together a fantastic squad,” Bell said. “However, this one we feel everyone’s passion for the game. People want to be out here hitting balls and having fun. The team dynamic (this year) is something special.”
Bringing it home: recent state champions
2019 — Team: Cherry Creek (5A), Cheyenne Mountain (4A), Peak to Peak (3A); Individual No. 1 singles: Valerie Negin, Smoky Hill (5A), Lucy Lu, Niwot (4A), Trisha Somasundaram, Peak to Peak (3A).
2018 — Team: Cherry Creek (5A), Niwot (4A), Peak to Peak (3A); Individual No. 1 singles: Ky Ecton, Poudre (5A), Lucy Lu, Niwot (4A), Trisha Somasundaram, Peak to Peak (3A).
2017 — Team: Cherry Creek (5A), Cheyenne Mountain (4A), D’Evelyn (3A); Individual No. 1 singles: Ky Ecton, Poudre (5A), Josie Schaffer, Kent Denver (4A), Sammy Moore-Thomson, Colo. Academy (3A).
2016 — Team: Fairview (5A), Cheyenne Mountain (4A); Individual No. 1 singles: Seraphin Castelino, Fairview (5A), Josie Shaffer, Colo. Academy (4A).