Piedra Vista senior always strives to improve

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FARMINGTON — In less than three years, Kalani Aligarbes has gone from never playing organized tennis to doing everything in his power to be named the No. 1 singles player on Piedra Vista's team.

On Saturday, the Panthers won the Rio Rancho quad. They first defeated Hope Christian 6-2, and then steamrolled Rio Rancho and Cleveland 7-2. Aligarbes, the team's typical No. 2 singles player, moved up to No. 1 singles during the quad because top player Zander Halgryn was away from the team for spring break.

Aligarbes took full advantage of his opportunity by going 3-0 in his three matches. The senior said he relished the opportunity, even though he didn't quite know what to expect.

"I was pretty nervous and excited when it started because I've never played at No. 1 singles before," Aligarbes said. "Plus I wasn't sure what to expect from the competition, but I handled it pretty easily."

Aligarbes is now 11-5 in singles play, and the confidence he gained by defeating 6A competition has him eyeing a permanent move to No. 1 singles.

At the beginning of the high school tennis season, teams play an inter-squad tournament to decide ranks, both in singles and doubles. Once the ranks are decided and the season begins, players can issue challenges during practices to those ranked above them by submitting a written challenge to the head coach at the beginning of the week. Aligarbes has challenged Halgryn for his No. 1 spot before and said he plans to do so again this week.

If nothing else, Aligarbes considers the challenges to be great practice.

"(Halgryn) is a really good player, and so I like to challenge myself," Aligarbes said. "I learn from him and just try to get better that way."

Never one to miss a summer workout — let alone a team practice — Aligarbes is one of the hardest workers PV coach Jenny Baker said she has ever coached. She welcomes these challenges from Aligarbes, as well as the rest of her players.

"He's earned his way, and he's earned how far he's come, but he's not satisfied," Baker said of Aligarbes. "And my whole team's like that. They know they are teammates off the court, but when they get on it, it's war."

Aligarbes and Halgryn form the No. 1 doubles team. Since Halgryn was absent from the Rio Rancho meet, Aligarbes teamed up with Pol Nicolai instead. They went 2-1 on Saturday, but the chemistry wasn't as strong as it is between Aligarbes and Halgryn.

"We've been friends since I transferred here from Farmington before my sophomore year, so we already bonded," Aligarbes said. "We always hit together and practiced together, and now we're finally a team."

Aligarbes and Halgryn have found success in their first year as a duo, currently boasting a 10-0 record. Baker said it's more difficult for the opposition to detect the angles Aligarbes, a left-hander, takes to the ball. Aligarbes said his doubles partner compliments his style very well.

"He has really good net play, so him being at the net when I serve is really good," Aligarbes said. "And since he's right-handed and I'm lefty it can help us with where we're going to serve and where we're going to hit in a match."

Aligarbes has come a long way from never playing tennis to becoming one of the better singles players in the area. He said he has also learned what it means to be a leader, which can only make PV more dangerous going forward.

"Starting out from the very bottom and moving up, I've kind of seen how things should go and how guys should talk to each other and help each other," he said. "I've seen how important work ethic is and how it can rub off on other people, so I try to help with that."

Jake Newby covers sports for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4577. 

A closer look: Kalani Aligarbes

1. Favorite athlete?

"I used to play soccer, so Lionel Messi."

2. Favorite team?

"Real Manchester United."

3. Favorite food?

"Chicken and rice."

4. Favorite movie?

"'The Big Green."

5. Favorite subject in school?

"English."

6. Least favorite subject?

"Math."

7. Biggest fear?

"Dying with too many regrets."

8. Do you play any other sports?

"No, not right now."

9. What is the first thing you would do with $1 million?

"Save it and invest it."

10. Do you have any pregame rituals?

"Not really a ritual, but I always put on a hat to wear. If that counts."

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