Niwot boys tennis: Coach Keronen hopes to lead Cougars to another winning year
September 6, 2016
Mikka Keronen’s 13th season as Niwot’s head boys tennis coach began with a decisive 6-1 victory over regional rival Thompson Valley. For Coach Keronen, this victory was significant for two reasons.
“It gave me a good understanding of where we are with our top eleven,” he said.
It also meant that the team had cleared the first obstacle on its path to the Class 4A state championship. “Expectations are high [this year],” Keronen explained, “But expectations are always high. Niwot is always gunning for top three in the state.”
In 2015, the Cougars met those expectations, with a first-place finish in the regional tournament and a second consecutive third-place finish at the 4A state tournament. Despite losing key members of that 2015 squad to graduation, Coach Keronen has every confidence that the 2016 Cougars will find their way back into championship contention.
This year’s team is notable for its unusual combination of youth and state tournament experience. Six of the team’s 11 varsity members were state qualifiers in 2015, and three of them are just sophomores this year. Playing No. 1 singles for the Cougars this year is senior Matthew Chavez, who last year advanced to the quarterfinals in the No. 2 singles state bracket. Freshman Caden Kammerer has assumed the Cougars No. 2 singles slot, while sophomore Riley Black will be playing No. 3 singles. Senior Peter Graham and sophomore Manas Saini, both state qualifiers in 2015, will play No. 1 Doubles.
Coach Keronen knows he’s fortunate to have such a depth of talent on his roster. “The tennis program at Niwot is super competitive,” he explained. “We are always getting great new players.”
As for his competition in the region, Keronen expects it will be “pretty strong,” but says he encourages his players to concentrate more on their own efforts. “Other teams are an external factor that we can’t control. We like to keep the focus on internal factors,” he explained.
That said, he also tries to make sure his players are constantly challenged by scheduling non-league matches against stronger opponents. “We always have one of the toughest schedules,” he points out. He admits this strategy might result in fewer team victories during a regular season, but says, “it makes the best players.”
Niwot’s first match of the 2016 season was held on August 23 at home against Thompson Valley. The Cougars cruised to a 6-1 win, led by Matt Chavez’s 6-0, 6-0 win at No.1 singles. They were back in action this week, with matches on consecutive days against Broomfield, Boulder and Centaurus. Niwot’s next match is scheduled for September 6 against Northridge. This year’s 4A Region 5 tournament will be held at Niwot in early October, and the season concludes with the Class 4A state tournament, which will be played in at Pueblo City Park, October 13-15.