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PHS girls tennis team aims to contend

Team brings back everybody from 2017

 

February 22, 2018

PORTALES — They've been there before, but now they want more. That unintended rhyme pretty much sums up this year's Portales girls tennis team, who happen to return everybody from last year - and then some, as they appear to be poised to do big things come tournament time this spring.

"We'd like to compete and go for a district championship," Portales girls and boys tennis coach Ann-Marie Bucksath said. "I've had these girls for three years and we qualified for state every year, but now we want more."

Last season, Portales went 6-5 (3-3 in district). The Rams placed fifth, but qualified for sixth in the state field. In the process, No. 1 singles player Sarah Blaeser was a state semifinalist, taking the Third Place match over Hope Christian's Victoria Speziani, 6-1, 6-0.

Blaeser returns along with everyone else, plus the additions of Zamorye Cox and Kelly Fraze. Cox, the team's No. 1 singles player two years ago, will return after taking a year off to focus on basketball, as she'll be utilized as the team's No. 2 behind Blaeser, while also pairing with the fellow senior on the No. 1 doubles team.

As for Blaeser, expectations are high. She comes from a tennis family, as both her mom and aunt were tennis players, and many longtime Portales residents remember when her mother, Christine, coached the since-dissolved Eastern New Mexico women's tennis team.

But she hasn't been in the sport as long as some of her teammates.

"She always played softball," Bucksath said. "She took the offseason of her sophomore year to learn with her mom. She's so fundamentally sound and focused, and her mental game has come a long way."

Behind her and Cox are Danielle Ruiz and Kinsey Bilberry, while Fraze comes over from track. The district should be tough again with the likes of NMMI and Mesilla Valley, while the state level will be a gauntlet, yet again. Expect teams like Las Cruces and Robertson to make their usual push.

As for the boy's side, Bucksath takes over for Logan Brown as head coach, and anticipates this year to be a rebuild.

In 2017, the boy's team went 2-5 (1-2 in district) and featured one senior. For 2018, Bucksath's message to the kids is simple. "(I want them) focusing on groundstrokes," Bucksath said. "Not focus on power, but consistency of serves."

Last year saw a lot of youth and inexperience, but with another year under their belts, Bucksath is optimistic about this team. At the top of the heap is No. 1 and No. 2 singles players Javier Gutierrez and Francisco "Pancho" Lopez, respectively.

Gutierrez, a senior, went 5-9 in singles play and 2-2 in doubles play a year ago, while the sophomore Lopez went 4-9 in singles and 3-9 in doubles as a freshman last season.

"Javier is a consistent player, and the kids on the team call him 'The Wall,' because of his patience to play it out, not make a mistake and wear you down," Bucksath explained. "Pancho has been playing for quite a few years. He has great groundstrokes and he's a great team leader. He's a great motivator and he really gets the kids to respond to him."

Behind them, Bucksath is experimenting in doubles, mixing in new players.

Zeke Aguirre and Julian Tellez are two to watch for, with Tellez being a newcomer. However, like Blaeser, Tellez has tennis lineage. Tellez' mom, Melissa Tellez (formerly Tarango), played tennis at ENMU and was a standout in her day.

If Tellez can prove to be a quick learner like Blaeser was, the boy's team could potentially be that much better this season.

"Julian has really stepped up. He went from our No. 9 player all the way up to No. 4," Bucksath said. "He's a great athlete with quick feet."

 
 

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