A winning combination

Sailor tennis players willing to sacrifice for success

— Channel surfing in Switzerland often is a lost cause so Kelli Parnell gave in.

"All we had were sports channels, so I started watching tennis," she said. "I thought it was cool and when I moved here I started taking lessons."

Two years later, as a freshman, Parnell became the No. 3 singles player for Steamboat Springs. She attributes her family's love for tennis and her individual hard work as reasons why she picked up the sport so quickly.

"We knew she was going to be strong," said coach Emily Harris. "She has surpassed expectations, but we're not surprised. She's a good athlete, one of those that can pick up a racquet and do pretty well."

However, not everyone is blessed with such a knack.

Junior Kim Heckbert, the No. 2 singles player on the Sailors team, first picked up a racquet in fifth grade because an irregular heartbeat prevented her from playing soccer. Despite the sprinting requirements in tennis, she had no other health concerns. Improvements and progression came just at a slower pace.

Heckbert's perfectionist drive in tennis but only tennis, she admits pushes her to the point of frustration.

"Kim has definitely matured," said Harris. "Her breakthrough this season came against Glenwood. She lost to (Celeste Cashel) earlier in the year and was determined when she played her again to not give up a game. She beat her 6-0, 6-0."

Parnell and Heckbert both share a strong passion for tennis, evidenced in the sacrifices they made to have successful seasons. Parnell also played on the junior varsity soccer team this spring, but it took a back seat to tennis. Heckbert let go of competitive horseback riding to pursue a goal of playing collegiate tennis.

"No regrets, but I feel bad for my horse Chip," she said.

There the similarities between the two teammates basically end.

Parnell, a seemingly shy brunette, said she would usually pick a T-shirt and pair of shorts to practice in over the customary dress or skirt.

"I'm kind of a tomboy," she said.

Heckbert owns six dresses and four skirts, including one of those flashy white numbers with the sides cut out like Venus and Serena Williams wear on the professional tour.

"I think of tennis as 40 percent game and 60 percent the outfits," she grinned.

Heckbert checks the Internet for information on her opposition. If her foe played in a summer tournament Heckbert likes to see how the other girl fared.

"It's nice to know so you can figure out your game strategy," she said.

Parnell stands on the opposite side of the fence.

"I like to not know," she said. "If they're like No. 1 in the state then I'll get scared and think I'm going to lose and probably will lose."

Each carries two racquets in her bag in case one breaks. Parnell plays with one her favorite is strung with purple strings and has a purple grip. It goes well with her purple fingernails.

"I think the tennis ball should be purple," she said.

Heckbert mixes it up and plays with both in practice.

"My grips are a little different," she said. "One is worn down more, but they are strung at the same tension."

Before games, Heckbert goes off alone to focus, stretch and jump rope to warm her feet up. Parnell doesn't have a pre-match ritual.

Both, however, love the challenge in the sport of tennis. When someone zips a hard ground stroke to Parnell, "I'll give it right back," she snaps.

Sure winning easy is nice, but make them work. Heckbert wants a good opponent "so I can show what I can do," she said.

Despite the differences, together they agree that having confidence is essential.

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