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Student Athlete of the Week: LiChen Liao

Digesting his No. 2 singles state individuals tournament semifinals loss hasn't been easy, but Niwot boys tennis junior LiChen Liao is surrounded by a support system which should help him return next season with a vengeance.

Liao, who won the No. 2 singles title last year, said that his No. 1 singles teammate, senior Luke Weber, was there for him following his 6-1, 6-2 loss to Kent Denver's Will Moldenhauer at City Park in Pueblo on Oct. 14. Weber had a similar experience last season when he was unable to defend his No. 3 singles state title when he moved up to the No. 1 singles tournament.

"Luke Weber helped me out a lot because he came up short last year, so he kind of helped me out with that," Liao said.

There are still plenty of positives Liao can take away from his junior season, though. According to MaxPreps, he had over 10 wins (a career-high) and at least three 6-0, 6-0 victories. His highlights also included two wins over Moldenhauer, a three-set takedown of Mullen's Patrick Duke, a narrow two-set defeat of Cheyenne Mountain's Steven Zhou and in Niwot's first round match of the state team tournament, he beat his Grand Junction opponent 6-0, 6-2.

"I was playing pretty tight most of the year, but I was able to play out more toward the end," Liao said. "Obviously, I didn't win again, but I'm not disappointed at all."

Liao is now entering an important offseason with Niwot's No. 1 singles spot awaiting him next year. Knowing that he will soon be playing stronger opponents, his goal during the downtime is to train more often. He also added that his semifinals loss has been a source of motivation.

Improving his leadership abilities is another focus for Liao with his senior season coming up. Similar to how Weber was able to mentor him at times, Liao has a talented younger teammate in freshman Charlie Kirtland to continue bringing along. Kirtland fell in the No. 3 singles state quarterfinals match this season, and there is a good chance he'll make the jump to the No. 2 singles slot as a sophomore.

"I'm pretty proud of his results towards the end of the season," Liao said. "I think he'll be really good next year."

With his senior year on deck, Liao has high expectations for both himself and his team.

"I'm definitely going to have to be more of a leader in my team," Liao said. "We did a pretty good job with that. I know the competition's definitely going to be a lot tighter (at No. 1 singles)."


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