3A girls tennis: D’Evelyn’s Grace Li grinds her way back to the semis

COLORADO SPRINGS – It is not uncommon for the top seed in the draw of the No.1 singles tournament to have a relatively easy day on the first day of the state tournament.

But throw in some brutal 25 mile per hour winds, an hour delay (thus standing around and waiting to play), later on some smoke from the fire in Teller County just west of Pikes Peak and a tough draw and it was as though the stars aligned against D’Evelyn senior Grace Li on Thursday at Memorial Park on the opening day of the Class 3A state tournament.

And credit to last year’s state runner-up at No. 1’s, who persevered through all of it to punch her ticket to Friday’s 9 am semifinals against St. Mary’s Academy freshman Ellie White. Li outlasted Colorado Academy’s Katherine Pulido in the uber gusty opener 6-4, 6-3 and then got all she could handle, from Holy Family freshman Annabelle Kenny in the quarters. After winning the first set against Kenny, Li was down 6-5 in the second and then rallied to force a tiebreaker and eventually closed it out in straight sets.

“No excuses with the wind, everyone was in the same situation, I just didn’t handle it well,” said Li, who will play club tennis next year at the University of North Carolina. “Every opponent is going to get stronger from here on out and we are all going to have to deal with the wind and I am expecting tomorrow to be even harder than this.”

Said Jaguars coach Woody Oliver on his top players Day 1 experience: “I don’t think she would have wanted it any other way. The tightness of a pressure packed match is how you build confidence in a long tournament and that can help you early on as opposed to not having to deal with any of that. “

While Li admittedly had her moments where her opponent and the wind outsmarted her, it was her that had the last laugh. She was smart all day long, knowing when to spin serves in and when to attack with more pace with the flat serve.

“Whe it is like this, there really is no strategy,” said Li, who admitted she has put the disappointment of last year behind her. “I lost it a bit at times, but it’s all about putting some variety on shots, but honestly it is all in the head.”

Li and the rest of her teammates were also playing with the added pressure of being the defending Class 3A champs, and despite the proverbial target on their back, the Jaguars stepped on on Day 1 and immediately proved they are the team to beat again this year . The Jags swept their way through the first day and sit in first place with a total of 21 points. There are a bunch of teams in the mix right behind the D’Evelyn, including Holy Family (14 points), Colorado Academy (11 points), Vail Mountain (10 points) and St. Mary’s (9 points).

“I’m not exactly the biggest Novak Djokovic fan, but he had a good quote, saying ‘Pressure is privilege’, and we have put ourselves in this situation we are in and we have handled the obstacles in front of us this season, “Oliver said of the target. “I don’t think we really think about it too much, it’s more a matter of just handling each match as best you can regardless of who is on the other side of the court.”

On the other half of the No. 1 singles draw are St. Mary’s senior Ellie Hartman, who like her Friday opponent, senior Lila Travis of Dawson, won her quarterfinals match 6-3, 6-3.

The quarterfinals are set to get underway on Friday morning at 9 am The championshi side of the brackets will play just one match on Friday and the lower half playbacks will play twice after the semifinals concludes.

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