Highland High had a strong girls' tennis team last year. This year it's supposed to be stronger. After the opening day of the Girls' 4A Tennis Championships, no one doubts it.

The Rams were the only one of 18 teams to make it through two rounds unscratched. A little nervous, maybe, on the doubles side, but so relaxed with singles they were on the verge of sleepiness.Highland's three singles players - Angela Nelson, Sara Mecham and Libby Romney - are the same three that finished 1-1-1 in the three singles division last year. They are, undisputably, three of the best in Utah tennis - in any division or gender.

In two rounds of play, where each needed to have played at least four sets and 72 games (they ended up playing 76 games between them), they've not given up a set and only lost a combined total of four games. They are, as one coach said, three of the very best he's watched over the years, "and all three just happen to go to Highland. Too bad for us."

Nelson beat Shannon Carr of Viewmont, 6-0, 6-0, then Chelsea Saberon of Bonneville, 6-0, 6-2; Mecham beat Kim Balfor of Bingham, 6-0, 6-0, and Tiffany Long of American Fork, 6-0, 6-1; and Romney beat Teresa Mathews of Viewmont, 6-0, 6-1, and Kim Fredericks of Mountainview, 6-0, 6-0.

Timpview was the next best with players in three semifinals, with Alta, Weber and Hillcrest following with two each.

First-year Alta High Coach Sandy LeValley, probably put this event in the best perspective, noting that her team had played well and was still in the title chase, "but Highland's going to be very tough to beat."

Skyline's Dan Snarr concurred and added that it would take some major upset by the other schools to keep Highland from winning its second title in two years.

One player drawing a lot of attention Friday was Nelson. She is, among tennis players, a late starter who has gotten to be very good. It was just four years ago, when she was 11, that she first got serious about tennis. She was, at the time, a ballerina . . . "But I got too tall. Who can pick up a 5-foot-7 ballerina? So I put my time into tennis . . . about four hours a day," she said.

She won this event as a freshman last year. She was ranked 17th in the nation in the girls' 14 at the time.

If all goes to script, Nelson will meet Jennifer Jensen of Hillcrest in the finals. Jensen, a senior, lost to her in the finals last year.

Also making the semifinals were Highland's two doubles teams - Maureen Evans and Rebecca Foulger, and Lisa Foulger and Colleen Evans. Both teams needed a third set in the quarterfinals to advance.

Singles semis will begin at 10 a.m., followed by the finals at 1:30.