When the seniors on the Durango High School girls tennis team were freshmen, the team played just three duals over one weekend before the season ended abruptly because of the pandemic.
On Saturday, those same seniors got to celebrate with their teammates one the best seasons Durango has ever had on the courts.
DHS wrapped up the Southwestern League title on Saturday with a second win in two days over the Grand Junction Tigers.
DHS beat Grand Junction 7-0 on Friday and, after the Tigers shuffled their lineup, 7-0 again on Saturday to finish a perfect 6-0 in league matches and 9-2 overall.
“From the pandemic their freshman year to going undefeated (in league), it’s a cool start and finish,” said DHS head coach Darren Tarshis. “They started in a crappy situation, but finished with one of the best seasons ever.”
“I’m really proud of us,” said senior co-captain Ellie McLean. “We all work hard and we’re all united. It helps we have a lot of seniors and juniors, but we all want to win.”
“We have a lot of grit and determination, which is incredible,” said senior co-captain Ellie Davenport, noting that a lot of the team’s players didn’t even start playing tennis until they were freshmen in high school.
Davenport has been a key part of Durango’s transformation.
“She’s a critical kid,” Tarshis said. “She’s the best player on the team, the best at taking feedback and the hardest worker.”
Davenport played varsity doubles as a freshman in the shortened season, No. 2 singles as both a sophomore and junior and then moved up to No. 1 singles as a senior where she gets to play every team’s top player.
“It’s a good challenge to not win all of the time,” she said. “It’s a better lesson than having a good record; I feel I’ve learned a lot.”
Davenport, however, got a win on Saturday in her final home match. Grand Junction was without its No. 1 singles player this weekend so the Tigers forfeited the position on Friday, but moved some players around on Saturday so Davenport played their No. 2 singles player, Abi Kearl. Davenport kept Kearl chasing balls around the court all game and eventually won 6-1, 6-1.
“She didn’t give me any free points,” Davenport said. “It was not my best match, but I’m happy I won my last match before regionals.”
The match had a lot of good rallies, but Davenport was able to score with well-place shots just out of Kearl’s reach.
“When I play someone I know I can beat, I work on placing my shots more,” Davenport said. “I move them around and make them make errors.”
While her forehand is her best shot, Davenport also said her mentality is one of her strengths.
“I don't show a ton of emotion,” she said. “I like to play the mental game and try to get them frustrated.”
Durango’s No. 2 singles player, junior Adwyn Chowen, also beat Kearl on Friday 7-6(2) and 6-2. Chowen then beat Bethany Kimmell 6-0, 6-2 on Saturday go 10-0 in regular-season duals for the Demons.
DHS’ No. 3 singles player, freshman Jordan Kitchens, beat Kimmell 7-5, 7-5 on Friday. On Saturday, Kitchens scored a 6-2, 6-4 win over Juliette Berry.
The matchup at No. 1 doubles was the only one that didn’t change from Friday to Saturday. After Durango’s McLean, a senior captain along with Davenport, and partner junior Juliet DiGiacomo won 6-2, 6-7(8), 6-2 on Friday, the teams played a rematch on Saturday. A third set was needed again, but Durango’s duo emerged with a 6-0, 6-2, 6-4 win.
“We brought really good energy and were just excited to be out there,” McLean said, adding they had to turn the switch on again in the third on Saturday. “I don’t mind playing a third set, you just have to reset and regroup and come to the court with a clear mind,” she said.
At No. 2 doubles, seniors Lola Bradshaw and Sydney Pritchard won their final two home matches. The duo won 6-3, 6-3 on Friday and 6-3, 6-2 on Saturday.
Seniors Addie Cady and Litzy Lopez also won their final matches at DHS. The No. 4 doubles team won 6-1, 6-3 on Friday and then 6-0, 6-1 on Saturday.
At No. 3 doubles, Avery Edgar and Rachel Ager also scored two wins. They won 6-1, 6-4 on Friday and 6-2, 6-4 on Saturday.
“Grand Junction is a well-coached team, but we played a lot better today,” Tarshis said.
Durango’s No. 1-3 doubles teams all finish 9-1 in regular-season duals while Cady and Lopez went 8-2 at No. 4. Davenport finished 5-5 and Kitchens 7-3.
“This is my first group I’ve seen through from their freshman year to their senior year,” Tarshis said. “It’s been really rewarding to see them commit the whole time.”
DHS will next compete in the 4A Region 8 championships Thursday and Friday at Colorado Mesa University in Grand Junction. In addition to the league foes Montrose, Grand Junction and Fruita, DHS will also play Longmont at regionals. The top-2 finishers at each position will advance to state.
Heading into regionals, McLean said she just wanted to stay consistent and savior every moment.
“We’re on a really good path,” she said. “The goal is to get to state for everyone.” Qualifying for the state duals was also a team goal, and DHS earned the No. 15 seed for that tournament. Having fun was another team goal, McLean said.
“This team is incredible; I’m really sad to leave them,” Davenport said. “There’s no pressure or rivalries. They’re all so sweet … also our depth, 15th at state is incredible. My freshman year we were just starting to build the program. This is a testament to the team’s dedication and coaches.”
“I love our team spirit; I started as a sophomore and it was very welcoming,” McLean said.