PUEBLO Thanks to persistent rains early Thursday, Gabriella Hesse had to wait an extra eight-plus hours to finally represent Discovery Canyon as the school's first tennis player in the 4A girls' state tournament.
It got even better after the Thunder freshman defeated Fountain Valley's Rina Onishi, 7-5, 6-4 in the first round in No. 3 singles as the tournament finally got under way.
Two weeks ago, the Fountain Valley senior dominated Hesse, 6-2, 6-1. This time, Hesse tried not to overanalyze her opponent and the situation, and the extra time away from the courts while waiting out the rain must have helped.
'My head wasn't in the right place in the first match, ' Hesse said. 'Part of the difference today was getting my focus and remembering to relax and have fun. I just had the perfect combination of that, and I pulled through. '
Hesse filled in the long delay by staying as far away from tennis as possible, highlighted by taking in the movie '42 ' at a theater near the Pueblo Mall and an impromptu reading session to kids at a nearby book store.
'After breakfast, we went to a book store to relax, ' Hesse said. 'My friend and I were messing around, reading little kid's books to each other. Then we had a little crowd of kids come over and listen. It was fun. All of it kept my nerves in check. '
Hesse barely played .500 tennis during her first season. She went 3-4 heading into the regional tournament, then broke through in Denver by finishing runner-up to keep the season alive.
'Her season has been a steady increase, ' said third-year Thunder coach Brian Thirkell, also the school's sixth-grade math and science teacher who spent part of his down time grading papers and reading. 'It's great to see that improvement. Everything has been building up for state. '
Cheyenne Mountain, the four-time defending state team champ, spent the day relaxing as much as possible, trying not to get overanxious at the thoughts of defending its title.
After the first rain delay, scheduled to end at noon, was extended to 4 p.m., the team boarded its bus for lunch, then hit the movies, opting for 'Iron Man 3. '
Senior Lauran Renjard offered a quick critique without revealing too much information.
'Well, Robert Downey Jr. is amazing, Gwyneth Paltrow rocks, and it throws twists and turns in there, ' Renjard said. 'It was pretty awesome, but was hard to get really into the movie since we knew the actual reason we're here is to play state. The movie let us forget all the pressure we have and got us relaxed. '
Air Academy coach Molly Reagan rewarded her state qualifiers by booking rooms at the Wingate by Wyndham Pueblo. A place to stay, besides a bus, came in handy when the rains came.
'I wanted to make this a fun experience, and I remember in high school, going to state and staying in a hotel, ' Reagan said. 'We went to the mall and let them hang out and rest, but one thing I felt good about was that they had somewhere to go in their down time. '
The three-day tournament continues at 9 a.m. Friday at Pueblo City Park.