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Tennis community rallying around Demons

Durango High School beefs up schedule to raise its level
Griffin Hall practices on Wednesday at Durango High School. He is the team’s No. 1 singles player this season. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

The Durango High School boys tennis team has roughly 34 athletes this year. “It’s one the largest teams in a while,” said head coach Todd Jolley, noting that DHS is able to have a junior varsity team now, which it didn’t have in the past.

Fortunately for Jolley, many members from the local tennis community are chipping in their time to help the athletes improve their games.

“Members from the Durango Tennis Association come once or twice a week and work with the boys,” Jolley said.

Jolley’s assistant coaches include former Division I player Dani Phillis, longtime head coach Dave Weisfeldt, junior varsity coach Brian Boughton, last year’s head coach Mike Moriarty, Tom Stritikus and several other specialists.

“I appreciate the help from the tennis community; It really is the tennis village raising this team,” Jolley said. “My first year there was four of us, so to have five adults committed has shown (its development).”

Todd Jolley, head coach of the Durango High School boys tennis team, talks with players during practice on Wednesday at the school. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

Jolley is also an assistant coach for the DHS girls tennis team and said “it’s nice to have cohesion between the teams.”

The Demons got off to a strong start last weekend in Grand Junction, beating Grand Junction Central and Smoky Hill while leading Steamboat Springs before getting rained out. Its lone loss was to Regis Jesuit, but the coach said that was the best experience they got at the competition.

“I think we did really well for the first tournament,” senior Griffin Hall said. “Our doubles did great and our singles did decent.”

Last season, Griffin and his twin brother Rowan Hall played at No. 4 doubles for the Demons. The seniors, however, spent a lot of time on the court since then and climbed to the top of the ladder this season. Griffin is the team’s No. 1 singles player and Rowan is playing at No. 3 singles.

“Tennis is about the resources you put in ahead of time,” Jolley said. “Players who go to camps and tournaments (in the off season) have an advantage.”

“We played almost everyday all summer,” Rowan said. “We played a lot and worked hard at it.”

The brothers are lucky too because, as Rowan said, “we always have someone to play with.”

Rowan Hall, Durango’s No. 3 singles player, returns a shot on Wednesday. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

Playing singles, however, is different than doubles since you don’t have a teammate to rely on.

“Singles is a different game pretty much,” Griffin said. “Doubles is quicker while singles has longer rallies and more baseline shots.”

As the team’s No. 1 singles player, Griffin also gets to play every team’s top player.

“It’s hard, but it’s fun,” Griffin said. “I’m glad I get to play all of the great players.”

Other players returning for the Demons include Calan Barnhardt and Carter Ward.

Jolley said Barnhardt, the team’s No. 2 singles player, is, “incredibly level-headed and such a hard worker,” while Ward is, “incredibly dedicated.”

Calan Barnhard, the team’s No. 2 singles player, practices on Wednesday. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

The coach also said Durango’s doubles teams, “play incredible at the net and are also very aggressive.”

Patrick McBrayer, Leo Stritikus, Hays Stritikus, Will Benac, Nate Claassen, Hunter Gray and Michael Shires also competed on varsity during the team’s first tournament.

The team’s lineup and ladder are also pretty even. “This year it was incredibly close,” Jolley said. “There was a lot of split sets and tie breakers and four or five positions went to a third set. Twelfth through 16th were incredibly close too.”

Patrick McBrayer, left, and Carter Ward take a quick break on Wednesday. The duo is Durango’s No. 1 doubles team this season. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

Overall, however, the coach just likes how the team acts and carries itself.

“Our attitude and integrity are phenomenal,” Jolley said, adding, “Our sportsmanship and integrity come before results every time.”

The team, however, still has some big goals for the season.

“I would love for us to send everyone to state on our varsity lineup,” Jolley said. “Our regional competition is something I think we can overcome, and I’d rather shoot high than low.”

To prepare for the regional and state competitions, the team beefed up its schedule this season and will play more teams from the Front Range.

“We do well on the Western Slope, but then we go to state and have a hard time against 5A championship teams,” Jolley said. “We wanted to make sure we play some of them before.”

“I think it’s great,” Rowan said. “Playing better teams makes us better and it makes us play up a little.”

“We’ll play teams we’ve never played before,” Griffin said. “It’s good for us and it’s fun.”

Durango was originally scheduled to host Basalt on Sept. 1, but the school has a shortage of bus drivers, so it can’t make the overnight trip. Instead, the two teams will play at a neutral court in Montrose. Durango’s lone home match will be against Fruita Monument on Sept. 17-18.

This weekend, the team will compete Air Academy’s tournament. Aspen and Vail Christian, meanwhile, will be among the toughest team’s toughest competition on the Western Slope.

DHS head tennis coach Todd Jolley talks with players during practice on Wednesday at the school. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

“I think it’s going to be a great season,” Griffin said.

“They’re very nerdy in the most endearing way; they’re certainly unique for how studious they are,” Jolley said. “They’re just cool, nice kids. I want my kids to be like them.”

colivas@durangoherald.com