Back in the saddle: Thunder tennis player returns to court after mountain biking journeys

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PUEBLO - Tanner Jones took a quite interesting path from his quick exit from last year's 4A state boys' tournament to winning his first-round match Thursday and very nearly advancing into the semifinals.

The senior at Discovery Canyon put away his tennis racket. He warmed up his mountain bike instead.

He made the decision to leave his tennis game behind, choosing to lose himself in biking, competing at such places as Winter Park and Whistler, British Columbia, among others. Tennis became an afterthought.

After a 10-month layoff, he returned to the court, refreshed and ready to turn over a new leaf.

Something clicked.

On Thursday, he dispatched Lewis-Palmer's Bo Tostanoski, 6-4, 6-2 in a first-round match after needing three sets to outlast the Rangers senior in late August. Later in the quarterfinals, Jones lost a hard-fought, 7-6, 6-4 contest to Aspen junior Alex Ilic.

If Ilic wins his semifinal match Friday, Jones will have a chance to continue his last state tennis experience in the playback round.

"Kids do a lot of growing in high school," Thunder coach Mike Humphrey said. "I think it depends on the person. Tanner is one of those people who does a good job about compartmentalizing things, and he's out there doing other things. Some kids don't want a break, and that means they're driven by that. Tanner made a decision that he wanted to get away from tennis, and I think that time off was perfect for him."

At this time last year, tennis was the furthest thing on Jones' mind. Following a runner-up finish in the regional tournament, he was paired with region-champ Jordan Wagner of Colorado Academy, who won all 12 games in the tournament opener at No. 3 singles.

"I just needed a break and not play for a while," Jones said. "That break turned out to be 10 months, but I knew I was going to come back. I really enjoy the atmosphere of the high school team and my coaches. I just needed some time away."

That time was spent in the saddle at sometimes distant places, once taking part in an event in Peru, and said his time away reshaped his perspective as he embarked on one last season of high school tennis.

"Before, I really didn't push myself the way I should have," Jones said. "I just told myself to try hard, play my best and care for every point instead of throwing points away. That has been my mindset this season. It just feels good to win."

Not only did Jones have scant time to revive his game after the long layoff, he'd have to do so in an elevated role, moving up to No. 2 singles after the surprise departure of Dustin Bohuslavschi, who reached the quarterfinals as a junior in 2016.

On paper, Jones didn't have a successful regular season, winning two of his nine singles matches in a gantlet riddled with such tennis powers as Colorado Academy, Cherry Creek, Kent Denver, to name a few.

But it all came together at just the right time, winning the region title at No. 2 singles.

"My main concern was with his serve," Humphrey said. "At a higher level of tennis, it's a lot about serving and holding your serve. In the last two weeks, his serve has come on and once he started getting that in, tennis started getting a lot easier. With the break, he's playing in the moment now. He plays like there's no pressure on him, and his expectations of how he's supposed to play aren't overriding what he should be dong. He's playing to win and swinging a lot freer now. Things seem to be working out."