PUEBLO — In one moment, Niwot freshman Lucy Lu became the queenslayer. Her match point in the second set of the No. 1 singles final didn’t just end Josie Schaffer’s run as a state champion, but it also put Niwot out of reach of defending team champion Cheyenne Mountain.
For the second time in school history and the first time in 10 years, the Cougars are the Class 4A girls tennis champions.
And to cap it off, Lu brought home the No. 1 singles, kicking off what is expected to be a memorable career at Pueblo City Park.
“I’m just so proud of my team and I’m so happy,” Lu said. “This has been our goal. We went in thinking this is probably our best chance in a while because our best players are seniors.”
There wasn’t a single member of the team that wasn’t ready to battle. And as a result, the Cougars swept all five finals that they reached. Julia Pentz ended her career with a championship, topping Ariana Arenson in the No. 3 singles final.
Niwot also claimed three doubles championship as Lily Sieben and Erin O’Neill, Catherine Xiao and Maedee Trank-Greene, and Emily Creek and Annie Heinritz all took spots on the top of the podium. The team finished with 86 points, 14 better than Cheyenne Mountain.
The Cougars started the tournament strong, jumping out to a lead on day one, but it was a complete effort on Saturday that gave them championship gold.
“It’s unbelievable that we were able to work as a team like this,” coach Aimee Keronen said. “We were going through all the scenarios last night and of all the scenarios we had, (the way today turned out) was not how we had it on paper. We exceeded expectations.”
One of those scenarios they weren’t sure about was Lu’s No. 1 singles final against Kent Denver’s Schaffer. The first set provided all the makings of a match that will be talked about for the next 51 weeks leading into next year’s state tournament.
Lu immediately broke Schaffer’s serve to get the early advantage, but fans surrounding the fence were treated to a see-saw battle in the first set. Lu had two chances to serve for the set, but Schaffer broke the serve both times. They ended up going to a tiebreaker where Lu again took control jumping out to a 6-3 lead.
Schaffer battled back and even took an 8-7 advantage. But Lu showed incredible resiliency for a freshman. She won the tiebreak 10-8.
“The tiebreak was very stressful since I was up 6-3 and lost all three points,” Lu said. “But then I think got back to working for one point at a time and not looking forward.”
That mindset worked in the second set. Lu maintained control, winning it 6-2 and handing Schaffer her first loss in the state tournament.
In the seconds following the end of the match, onlookers were already talking about the potential rematch in next year’s state tournament. There’s no telling how things could play out with Lu entering her sophomore year with the pressure of defending a title.
“I think that’s what Josie was feeling today,” Keronen said. “It’s hard to win a couple of titles and have someone come in and push you like that. Lucy will feel that next year and hopefully it’s a rematch between Josie and Lucy.”
Longmont junior Taylor Merz also found her way to the podium on Saturday. She had battled through Friday’s playback rounds to reach the third-place match, but fell 6-4, 6-1 to Lewis-Palmer’s Emma Gaydos.
Merz already has her eyes set on next year.
“Every year I’ve improved a little bit in something,” she said. “This year to get fourth is amazing so I definitely want to get better. ”
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Class 4A state tournament
At Pueblo City Park
TEAM SCORES — Niwot 86, Cheyenne Mountain 72, Kent Denver 25, Mullen 25, Lewis-Palmer 23, Valor Christian 18, Palmer Ridge 17, Durange 16, Longmont 9, Loveland 9.
No. 3 Singles — Emma Gaydos (Lewis-Palmer) def. Taylor Merz 6-4 6-1.
No. 1 Singles — Lucy Lu def. Josie Schaffer (Kent Denver) 7-6 6-2.
No. 2 Singles — Taylor Thulson def. Darby Warburton (Valor Christian) 6-4 6-2.
No. 3 Singles — Julia Pentz def. Ariana Arenson (Lewis-Palmer) 6-0 6-2.
No. 1 Doubles — Julia Doyle/Isabel Haifleigh (Kent Denver) def. Rachel Drake/Tehnley White 6-3 6-3.
No. 2 Doubles — Lily Sieben/Erin O’Neill def. Emma Delich/Sydney Wagner (Cheyenne Mountain) 1-6 6-4 6-4
No. 3 Doubles — Catherine Xiao/Maedee Trank-Greene def. Jordan Cleary/Tatum Maloney (Mullen) 6-4 6-4.
No. 4 Doubles — Emily Creek/Annie Neinritz def. Zola Bzdek/Maggie Dwyer (Cheyenne Mountain) 6-3 6-4.