Despite a few anxious moments, the Niwot girls tennis team punched their ticket back to Pueblo with a rousing win at this year’s Class 4A Region 5 tournament, held May 2-3 in Longmont.
Led by sophomore Lucy Lu at No. 1 singles, the 2018 state champion Cougars captured individual titles in six of the seven lines to qualify for a full team berth at the upcoming state meet, which opens at Pueblo City Park on Thursday, May 9.
Of course, going to the Class 4A championships is nothing new for the Cougars, but this year they will have an even bigger target on their backs, according to head coach Aimee Keronen.
“Cheyenne Mountain did, for 10 years,” she said of her team’s Class 4A rival, which won nine consecutive state tennis championships before Niwot upended them last year. “We kept trying to hit that target for years, and we finally did.”
Luckily, Keronen and the Cougars have most of last year’s arsenal still available to defend the Class 4A title, not least of whom is Lu, who is defending a state title of her own. The nationally-ranked sophomore claimed a second straight regional crown, with a 6-2, 6-0 win over Rebecca Pavot of Longmont, and will once again head to Pueblo as the leading contender for the individual championship, along with Josie Schaffer of Kent Denver and Morgan Hall of the dreaded Cheyenne Mountain.
Junior Tenley Hall was the winner at No. 2 singles, and will be making her solo debut at the state meet, following a successful two-year stint at No. 1 doubles, where she won a state championships in 2018. At No. 3 singles, senior Rachel Drake—White’s partner a year ago—will be making her fourth trip to state, in spite of a small stumble in the regional finals.
“I was super nervous and not playing tennis the way I know how to play tennis,” Drake said after falling 6-4, 6-4 to Longmont’s Taylor Merz in the championship round. “It was an ugly match.”
A calmer Drake redeemed that loss with a convincing win in the playback to take second overall on the day.
Keronen isn’t too concerned about her senior’s momentary setback.
“Even in Rachel’s loss there, she still played well,” Keronen said. “She played someone who doesn’t hit a lot at pace, and it’s hard to play that. I think under the circumstances she played fine. And she brought it back hard in the second match. That was fun to watch.”
In doubles, freshmen Georgia Lang and Anna Sallee captured the No. 3 title to claim their first ever state bids. The two outlasted Longmont 6-2, 6-2 for the win. At No. 1 doubles, sophomore Emily Creek and partner Catherine Xiao capped off their undefeated season with a 6-0, 6-1 win over Longmont, as did veterans Lily Sieben and Madee Trank-Greene at No. 2 doubles. Rounding out the squad at No. 4 doubles was Annie Heinritz and Avery O’Neill, who held on for a 6-4, 6-2 win.