Longtime friends Alexis Bernthal and Natalie Stone have taken different paths to get here as seniors for the Fairview tennis team, but with one last hurrah in 2021 and a full season ahead — a season of hope and one not lacking in competitive spirit — the band is getting back together, so to speak.
With a couple of matches already in this Season D slate, things have come full circle for Bernthal and Stone, who first added to Fairview’s always potent lineup as freshmen state qualifiers in 2018. Stone made the Class 5A No. 1 singles state semifinals in 2018, falling to eventual champ Ky Ecton of Poudre in straight sets but not before establishing herself as one to know in the scene. Meanwhile, Bernthal placed second in No. 2 singles in 2018 before putting together a phenomenal 2019 season that was capped with a No. 2 singles state title.
Stone missed sophomore season at FHS. Then last year, the two were ready to tackle the competition together with Bernthal having won the No. 1 singles slot and Stone set at No. 2. Just days in, the COVID-19 pandemic dictated that plan be put on pause.
While high school play was suspended, however, the pair did get chances to continue excelling through local and national tournaments.
Their games polished even more, the Knights should see dividends from the experienced best of friends.
“One of the nice things is that we’re really good friends not only through tennis but personally, and it’s like we know we’ve got each other’s backs,” said Bernthal, whose sister Quinn joins the FHS singles group in the No. 3 position on the ladder. “At this point being on a team together, hopefully we’ll be making each other better and making the team better. I want Natalie to have as much success as possible.”
Added Stone: “We have a really awesome group of girls, all of which are very competitive. Everyone definitely has that fighting spirit and wants to take it all the way to the end. We have a really good chance to do very well.
“I’ve missed the spirit of team tennis.”
The two played a challenge match for rights to No. 1 on Wednesday, and Alexis did emerge victorious. But what will benefit FHS the most this season is their willingness to push each other and support each other. To that, they agree — and so does head coach Susan Stensrud.
“They’re very good friends but they also, I think, appreciate that they can push each other in their match play,” Stensrud said. “When they came in as freshmen, we had a good group … players who set the tone that we were an inclusive group, team-oriented. I think these girls really took to that, and they’re trying to be that influence for the rest of the team.”
Bernthal is aware of what awaits as a No. 1 singles player. Every year may see top-flight prep talent choose other paths — several key BoCoPreps.com area players are not playing this spring — but the senior is confident in where her game is at right now. The 2019 season was a long time ago, but she did not lost a single set that season in high school play.
There’s a lot of good in the past results.
“There’s definitely a lot of good players this year and it’s going to be super competitive, even in duals that we play,” Bernthal said. “For me, it’s about putting in place some strategical game plans early on and then also kind of taking it one match at a time while just enjoying high school tennis while it lasts.”
Stensrud, who is back into a full-time coaching role this year, said that her singles group might be the best she’s ever had. That’s saying a lot since the team prevailed as state champions in 2016. She already expects Quinn Bernthal to hold her own at regionals as someone who got to watch her a bit in middle school at various tournaments that Alexis may also have been participating in.
The FHS doubles combinations will then be key to upending some other perennial favorites. To that end, the No. 1 doubles sophomore pairing of Virginia Gomulka and Elizabeth Roth are on the front end of what could be nice careers in the pipeline, as are No. 2 doubles freshmen pair Jane Roth and Maya Brakhage.
“That level of strength of all three singles positions is kind of unprecedented for us, and we’ve had a lot of state champion singles players,” Stensrud said. “Our goal is always to win state, and I think with this team we’re going to take a solid (approach) to meet that.”
Fairview improved to 2-0 on the season in duals with a 7-0 sweep of Poudre on Thursday afternoon. They’ll pick things up again Tuesday at Fossil Ridge.