When Pine Creek's No. 1 singles player moved out of the state before this season, tennis coach Dave Lehman was left with a big hole at the top of his team's rotation. Then he received a gift, from the Netherlands.
Ally Bellas was thrust into a unique situation when her family moved to Colorado Springs after three years in the Netherlands. Not only was the sophomore attending a new school and meeting new teammates, she also had some pretty big shoes to fill in replacing Nicole Kalhorn, who moved to Las Vegas.
"When you have these kinds of situations with a girl moving into the area, you never know what you're getting," Lehman said. "Ally has been great, and it was so nice to have a solution to what could've been a problem at No. 1 singles. She's been a great leader on the team, and such a nice and mature young woman."
That maturity has helped Bellas acclimate to her new surroundings, on and off the court. In addition to returning to America for the first time in three years - her father is in the Air Force - Bellas has had to learn to play on a new surface.
"I played No. 1 singles at my high school in the Netherlands last year, and to be honest, it was much easier than the competition here," Bellas said. "I had to adapt to playing on the hard court here because you pretty much only play on clay in the Netherlands. It was difficult in the beginning, but I've kind of evolved now and have gotten better."
At the Cheyenne Mountain Invitational, Bellas saw some of the toughest competition she's ever seen. She lost in straight sets to Cheyenne Mountain's Kalyssa Hall (who went on to win the No. 1 singles bracket) in the first round before defeating Broomfield's Dayna DeMeritte in the consolation bracket.
Although she fell to Kent Denver's Sadie Moseley Saturday morning in the fifth-place match, Bellas has made strides in her first season playing American tennis.
"I thought I played exceptionally well here considering the competition I faced and the fact that I'm only a sophomore," Bellas said. "I want to continue to improve as we go into regionals next weekend and get a lot of experience there, because that will be beneficial to me in the coming years."
Pine Creek is a young team, with its three singles players being underclassmen, and only five seniors on the team - all in doubles play.
Lehman wants to simply see growth from his entire team, including his No. 1 singles player.
"I just want to see Ally and the rest of the girls play good tennis next weekend, and that's been what I've wanted all year because we're young," he said. "This tournament was good for us, playing in a loaded bracket of great teams. I saw a lot of good things."
The young Eagles finished with just four team points, but got a taste of the state's best players. Host Cheyenne Mountain had six of its seven players/teams finish in the top three, and the 4A Indians edged 5A Cherry Creek 33-32 in team points.