Cherry Creek boys tennis wins sixth straight title; Ethan Hillis caps season undefeated

5A boys tennis state Ethan Hillis Cherry Creek

Cherry Creek's Ethan Hillis. More photos. (Ryan Casey/CHSAANow.com)

DENVER — Ethan Hillis said he took care of business. And he certainly had some unfinished business from years ago to attend to.

After finishing as a state runner-up his sophomore season and taking last year off tennis as a junior, Hillis came back for his senior year to finish off an undefeated campaign with a Class 5A No. 1 singles state title.

"It feels good, and since I didn't play last year and had that unfortunate ending two years ago, it makes it feel that much better," Hillis said.

Hillis defeated Overland junior Dawid Kijak in straight sets in a 40-minute match to seal the individual title in the 2016 boys tennis state tournament at Gates Tennis Center on Saturday.

Kijak had upset Fairview junior Tom Melville in a third-set tiebreaker in the quarterfinal round and powered past Heritage junior Skylar Gates in three sets to advance to the final.

"I know he had a few tough matches earlier in the week, so I think fatigue might have played a part in how he played today," Hillis said.

Overland assistant and singles coach Woodie Smith thinks it was a matter of maturity and mental toughness for Kijak, who finished the season 16-3. He said Dawid needs to mature so the little things do not affect him.

5A boys tennis state Dawid Kijak Overland

Overland's Dawid Kijak. More photos. (Ryan Casey/CHSAANow.com)

"What happens is some players can't let things go, and it carries with them and then they start hitting balls as hard as they can or try serving it a little bit harder than normal and they make mistakes," Smith said.

He added: "We compare Dawid to Gaël Monfils, a French professional tennis player. Monfils is a very talented player who has never won a major championship because he allows his emotions to get to him, and as soon as his emotions get to him, he becomes a trick artist. And he's a professional player, but it's immaturity, and that's why he can't win the big, big matches."

Hillis was dominant in his quick 6-0, 6-1 sweep of his opponent. The combination of heavy top spin, shot depth, ball placement and emotional and mental toughness burned Kijak repeatedly.

"I came out there with a lot of confidence and felt good," Hillis said.

Hillis, who also won a 5A No. 3 singles title as a freshman in 2013, will play collegiate tennis at Amherst University, a very strong Division III program in Massachusetts.

Usually the No. 1 singles final is the last match being played, and everyone descends upon that court to watch the grand finale. But on this rare occasion, the 2016 final was the first match completed of the day.

The No. 2 singles final match between Cherry Creek senior Robby Hill and Denver East junior Charlie Franks instead served as the most hype match of the last day of the tournament, lasting about three and a half hours.

Hill prevailed, taking down Franks in three sets; the first was an epic tiebreaker that went up to 12 points, 6-7 (12), which Franks won. But Hill closed out the second two sets 7-5 and 6-4 for the No. 2 singles title — his first individual championship.

5A boys tennis state

Cherry Creek's Robby Hill. More photos. (Ryan Casey/CHSAANow.com)

"I just kept telling myself to fight and I could do it. One point at a time, you can do this, fight, stay positive," Hill said. "And I think that's what helped me get through it."

He added: "I was zoned in like a laser. So focused and the crowd didn't bother me. All my friends were out there and it was really nice."

But Hill said the bigger picture is the Bruins' team title, which was threatened on the second day by a team race between the Bruins, Denver East, Regis Jesuit and Fairview.

"This is the first time I've been here that we haven't clinched on the second day, and that's really added pressure in the finals. The pressure is definitely there, and you feel it a lot," Hill said.

Cherry Creek claimed its sixth straight team title — its 21st title of the last 23 tournaments — and sealed it with a No. 1 doubles playback victory from duo Jacob Bendalin and Ben Murray.

Murray and Bendalin beat the Denver East duo of Tyrone Braxton and Eric Dallavalle 6-4, 6-2 for a third place finish.

Junior Zach Smith and freshman Nick Svichara also won a state championship in No. 4 doubles with a 6-2, 7-6 (3) win over Regis Jesuit's James O'Connor and Matthew Mahoney.

Longtime Bruins tennis coach Gary Harris also retired at the end of this season. Harris has been an assistant Cherry Creek tennis for 17 years, and saw much success with the program and from his son, Chad Harris, who is arguably the most dominant singles player to go through the program in the last 20 years.

He was the first to accept the state trophy for the Bruins, and he also got the water cooler dumped on him as well — a fitting ending for a key part of the Bruins' program.

"I had a sole purpose of being around Creek for 17 years and that was to make the program run smooth," Harris said. "My primary emphasis has been helping the varsity coach; regionals and state coaching, running the JV program, everything to make the program run smoothly, and all things I did revolved around that."

He added: "It's a fraternity of players in tennis and that's one of the reasons I stuck around. I like being associated with that."

The Bruins placed first with 81 total points. Fairview finished as the state runner-up with 60. Denver East came in third with 59.

(Ryan Casey/CHSAANow.com)

Cherry Creek won the team title. More photos. (Ryan Casey/CHSAANow.com)