Highland girls tennis ties for state titleNov 02, 2021 12h30 ● By Josh Mc Fadden
From left, Highland girls tennis team members Elsa Pearce, Sam Kiburtz, Gabrielle Dooling, Lucy Foulks, Dylan Lolofie, Kate Creamer, Grace Harman pose with the Class 5A state championship trophy. The Rams shared the title with Woods Cross after a successful tournament. (Photo by Brevin Elsholz, B Rev Photography)
By Josh McFadden | [email protected]
What was once a struggling program has in recent years become a Region 6 power. Now, the Highland girls tennis team can add state champion to its resume.
And to the trophy case.
The Rams celebrated a long-awaited title, tying Woods Cross for the Class 5A crown at the two championships Oct. 9-10 at the Salt Lake Swimming and Tennis Center in Salt Lake City. The Rams and Wildcats each netted 17 points, three more than Timpview.
Head coach Jeanine Elsholz had a good feeling about her squad as the season began. Accomplishing this goal took a lot of effort and preparation.
“I knew at the first of the season that we might have a shot at a state title, but we had a long way to go, and I was just hoping we could get there in time,” she said. “The team gave their all during the regular season to give us a good point lead going into the region tournament.”
Highland won the Region tournament, advancing all of its varsity players to state with either the No. 1 or No. 2 seeds. Winning region is nothing new for the Rams in recent years, but the team has struggled at state. Last season, Highland placed fourth, distantly behind champion Timpview. Two years ago, Highland tied for eighth place.
This year’s squad had a whole new mindset and approach, and it paid off.
“In past years, we played tight and underperformed at state,” Elsholz said. “But this year was so different. The girls were determined and focused. Every one of them played so well under pressure, some under extreme pressure. They were mentally tough and that made all the difference. I was so proud of how well they mentally prepared and how ready they were to play.”
Highland’s second doubles team turned in the top performance at state for the Rams. The tandem of Lucy Foulks and Grace Harman won the title, defeating a pair from Timpview in the finals 4-6, 7-6 (3), 6-2. Dylan Lolofie finished second in first singles, and Sam Kiburtz was the runner-up in third singles. Lolofie lost 6-4, 6-4 in the finals. Kiburtz came up short in the championship round 6-0, 6-1. But both players garnered a lot of points to help their team share the coveted state title.
It felt unreal to me,” Harman, a junior said, after winning the championship. “I thought we were going to lose for a minute. But when we won, it was an indescribable feeling. All my goals were achieved. I felt like I was on top of the world. Many hugs from teammates, friends and families was overwhelming and amazing.”
Her second doubles teammate Foulks said capturing the state crown was a true team effort.
“Winning state as a team took all seven of us working as hard as we could,” she said. “Even though our doubles match was the one that finished it off, winning it wouldn’t have mattered if my teammates had not worked for every single point. If Kate Creamer and Elsa Pearce hadn’t have dug back during their match to win against Olympus in the second round, my match wouldn’t have made a difference. I felt a lot of pride to be able to bring it home, but if my incredible teammates wouldn’t have done what they did as well, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to be the deciding match. When Highland High got announced for the championship, I felt like I was surrounded by celebrities. My teammates inspired me, and I felt an unbelievable adrenaline rush getting to walk up to grab our trophy with those talented girls.”
Winning the title began long before the state tournament got underway. For the players, it all began in practices and workouts, even before the 2021 season. A positive attitude and supporting one another have also been critical for the team members.
“It feels like all of my hard work has come full circle through this state championship,” first singles competitor Elsa Pearce said. “Our team has all spent thousands of hours on the court, and it couldn’t be more exciting to see it pay off. This state championship would not have happened without our efforts on the mental battle of tennis. We have become fierce competitors, and we can keep our cool no matter how high the stakes are. Even though my partner and I lost in the semifinals, we fought until the last point was over. Then we directed all our efforts to cheering our teammates on.”
Senior Kate Creamer, a first doubles team member, credited Elsholz and other coaches for getting Highland tennis to where it is today.
“We also never could have gotten this state championship without our amazing coaches,” she said. “Our head coach, Jeanine Elsholz, puts everything into this team every single year without fail. Her two sons Brevin Elsholz and Christopher Elsholz are also a vital part of this team. They volunteer to coach us and have improved our skills in countless ways. We would not be the team we are today without all of these coaches, and I know every girl on Highland tennis is extremely grateful for them.”
After years of dedicated work and plenty of ups and downs, Elsholz said the moment the team found out it won the title was surreal.
“It still does not seem real to me,” she said. “We have worked so hard, for so long, to build a system and a program that could compete at the top. I could not be more proud of this team for bringing the championship home for Highland. It has been an honor to be their coach this year.”
Elsholz also praised her two sons for their coaching and support. She emphasized, too, that every member of the team contributed to its success. Along with Creamer and Foulks, Kiburtz was part of a class that won three region titles in addition to this year’s state crown.
“The thing I love most about our state championship is that it took every single varsity player to make it happen,” Elsholz said. “It truly was a team effort. Every player contributed to the point total, and we needed every last point to finish in first place.”