The Niwot boys tennis team went 21-0 over its first three matches of 2019, but it was the narrow 4-3 victory over Class 5A powerhouse Fairview that head coach Miikka Keronen called his “favorite” of the still young season.
“These are the kinds of matches we need,” Keronen said after the tense Sept. 5 bout with the Knights, who finished third at last year’s 5A state championships. “If you want to win the state title, you have to play this caliber of teams. ... People think winning 7-0 is good, but it’s not always good for teams.”
Despite a prolonged lightning delay, a robust crowd was on hand to see Keronen’s squad inaugurate Niwot High’s newly constructed tennis complex, which features eight playing surfaces and three spectator areas. Junior Neil Wilcox led the Cougars on the day with his fourth straight-sets win at No. 1 singles, defeating Fairview junior Luke Silverman 6-1, 6-2.
At No. 3 singles, senior Ben Bicknell dispatched his opponent 6-1, 6-4, then hurried off to auditions for Niwot’s fall play. A talented performer and singer, Bicknell is currently starring as Enjolras in Jesters Dinner Theatre’s student production of “Les Misérables,” and sang the national anthem before the match got underway.
The Cougars’ pair of Xavier Moy and Luke Webber were winners in three sets at No. 2 doubles, 6-3, 3-6, 6-0. Webber, a freshman, has been among the early surprises for Keronen, as well as his teammates.
“Shout out right now to Luke Webber. He’s amazing. He’s so good, it’s insane,” senior Anton Lavrouk said when asked about the first weeks of the Cougars’ season. Lavrouk has been impressed by how well the team’s newcomers have “gelled” with the veterans this year, and helped the Cougars pick up where they left off after going 10-1 in 2018. “We’re pretty lucky in that regard—everybody’s just kind of embraced them, and we just started getting better together.”
Two of those newcomers, junior Maia Heather and senior Hayden Stoltz, picked up their fourth straight win at No. 3 singles against the Knights, winning 6-2, 6-4, to seal the Niwot victory.
“I was really proud of how everyone played, especially 2 doubles and 3 doubles—they really pulled through,” Lavrouk said. “And even everyone who lost. Even if the score was down, everyone was cheering. At the end of the day, scoring and getting better are important, but energy is also really important.”
Unfortunately, the highest energy match of the day did not result in a Niwot victory. At No. 2 singles, junior Sam Keronen came from behind to win the first set 7-6 (8-10) against Fairview senior Adam Heilbronner. The two then battled for more than an hour, but Keronen finally fell 4-6 in the second set and then 8-10 the tiebreaker for his first loss of the season.
Also posting their first loss of the season for Niwot were Lavrouk and junior partner Ivan Calderon at No. 1 doubles (4-6, 3-6), and sophomore Alan Wilcox and junior Reeves Moor at No. 4 doubles (0-6, 2-6).
Still, Coach Keronen couldn’t find much to criticize in his team’s play against the Knights.
“Today was perfect. It was money,” he said. “When you play a big school like this, they’re super deep, so you’ve got to find those four or five spots where you win, and we were able to find four of them today.”
Niwot will have to find at least four more on Sept. 12 when they go up against Mullen, another contender for this year’s Class 4A crown. However, both Keronen and his team are feeling up to the challenge after their slim win over Fairview.
“We’re just going to keep practicing as hard as we can, keep focusing, and learn from our mistakes,” Lavrouk said.