STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Following three straight second-place finishes at the Colorado High School State Tennis Championships, Steamboat Springs High School tennis player Mae Thorp has established herself as one of the best in the state.
Heading into her senior year, she’s determined to get even better and potentially stretch her career to the collegiate level. So, she took advantage of the Rare Air Tennis Training camp at the Tennis Center at Steamboat Springs.
“I just love tennis and want to keep playing as long as I can,” Thorp said. “I feel like the environment in college is going to be fun with the group and everything.”
Thorp and dozens of other tennis players aged 13 to 18 met for six hours over four days and then tested their skills in the Steamboat Tennis Association Annual Championships tournament.
Thorp competed against Oskar Bjuroe, who hails from the Cayman Islands. He, too, wants to play tennis in college and has been traveling around training.
“I was in New Orleans last week playing,” Bjuroe said. “And my friends have a house up here, so I was like, why not just play?”
Both started playing when they were young and were some of the older players at Rare Air. Some attendees were even as young as 10, just using regulation tennis balls, but still exhibiting great skill.
“This camp isn’t, ‘oh I don’t know if I want to do it,” Director of Tennis Bill Conway said. “It’s six hours a day for four days. Even the beginning, intermediate, green ball group, if you were to watch them play, they don’t look like beginners.”
Phil Girardi, head women’s tennis coach at St. Petersburg College in Florida was the speaker and trainer for the third year in a row at Rare Air.
“He actually was my mentor when I started coaching,” Conway said.
Girardi has spent 22 years teaching tennis, the last 10 at St. Petersburg College. Four years ago, in the program’s inaugural year, Dick Gould, the Director of Tennis at Stanford, joined the group.
Thorp said she enjoyed playing with and learning from other high-caliber players.
“I definitely learned a lot,” Thorp said. “All the new guys that came up, I haven’t hit with kids that hit as hard as they do in a while.”
Bjuroe said he, too, picked up some new things.
“When you’re playing, even if you lose your feet, just drop it,” he said. “Focus on winning the next one.”
With the tournament following the intensive camp, the attendees have a way to put their studies to the test.
“We have every kid walk out of here, there’s always something they can take away,” Conway. “We’ve never had one person tell us it wasn’t worth while.”