Whoever wins this season's Class 3A girls tennis championship will be the first to ever do so.
As for who will be hoisting the trophy, well, the race is wide open.
"It's still going to be very competitive," Colorado Academy coach Bob Ulrich said. "It's going to be a wide open race for 3A at the state tournament. I don't think anybody can be counted out because we haven’t even hit our first tennis ball yet, but I think it's going to be pretty wide open."
It could be Ulrich's Colorado Academy team that finished fifth in last year's 4A state championships and third the year before. Just below Colorado Academy in the final standings are D'Evelyn or Holy Family — both of whom have moved to 3A. The Jaguars and Tigers finished tied for sixth with 16 points each.
Or it could be any number of the schools chomping at the bit with a new opportunity in competition.
"With this new classification, it's a great opportunity for the girls that might not have had a chance to get in the top 3 of state at 4A, but now it's wide open," D'Evelyn coach Woody Oliver said. "They could even win state. It's pretty cool that they're changing the level but they're still going to be able to qualify for state and probably do even better."
It happened in 3A girls swimming as roughly 54 percent of participants in this year's meet didn't participate at state last season and Aspen won the first-ever championship in the classification.
"It's opened up the possibility to compete at a higher level for all of our spots," Holy Family coach Brittany Storgaard said. "We were always feeling really competitive at three or four of our seven spots a year, but now the door is open top to bottom on the ladder for qualifying and competing at the state level."
It goes even deeper than the Varsity 1 teams. The new classification gets girls on lower teams more competition and opportunity, too.
"We can get our Varsity 2 a little more play because we're playing an independent schedule with our Varsity 1 and we're putting our Varsity 2 in league," Storgaard said. "Our Varsity 2 girls get to compete at a higher level now, too. Across the board it's helping our program up its competition level."
Cheyenne Mountain has five of the nine returning all-state players from last year. They won the last eight championships and nine of the last ten. They scored 10-plus points at all seven positions in last year's championships.
But, Cheyenne Mountain is in 4A.
"It's the same competition that we're used to seeing, I just think there's more equal playing ground," Storgaard said. "We're able to compete against each other and not have the automatic knockouts from a Cheyenne Mountain or one of those schools. It's going to be a tough tournament. We're really excited for that."
This year's first-ever 3A state meet will be at Centennial Park in Greeley on May 11-13.
Last season, Colorado Academy was largely carried by its No. 1 and No. 2 singles players at last year's state meet.
"We graduated our number-one singles player and half of our number one doubles team who were very experienced players, but we have a number of players returning who have been to state at least once if not several times," Ulrich said.
D'Evelyn, meanwhile, scored on the strength of its doubles teams. The Jaguars had the No. 2, No. 3 and No. 4 doubles carried the load, grabbing 14 of 16 points.
"The strength of our team, what carried us, was the back end — the depth," Oliver said. "We might not have the top-tier one singles talent that is going to win state, but the reason that we've been doing so good is because the whole team is really deep. I expect once again the strength of the team will be that we are deeper than everyone."
Speaking of strength in the back, Holy Family follows the D'Evelyn model as the No. 3 doubles slot secured nine of 16 points at state.
"This is one of the hardest working groups of girls. From the preseason, I don’t think we've ever been more prepared," Storgaard said. "We have about half our team returning, and they're returning state qualifiers with great experience. The girls that we're looking to absorb and fill (other) spots, they're just as competitive."
Each team has different definitions for success this year.
"If we did a good job of coaching, if the players work hard, you stay injury and illness free, I would definitely like to do the best we could — maybe get in top five and then go from there," Ulrich said.
Oliver has less conservative aspirations for his first year as head coach at D'Evelyn.
"In terms of actually competing for a state championship, that's the goal," Oliver said. "We're definitely capable of winning it. This is my first year as head coach, so that would be a pretty awesome way to start. To come aboard my first year, the first year of 3A, and win the school's first state championship, that's definitely the goal."
Storgaard and Holy Family aren't backing down, either.
"To get a state championship has always been our goal regardless of the competition," Storgaard said. "It's a little bit of both. We're excited for the opportunity at 3A, but we were going to fight wherever we were."
But, really what it's about is opening a window of opportunity that otherwise wasn't there.
"I think it's incredible," Urlich said. "For the girls that have been fortunate enough to qualify, it's always been an amazing experience. I think that's one of the reasons why they went to 3A is to give more girls an opportunity to experience the state playoffs. For that reason, I think it's excellent."
Storgaard said the announcement of a 3A classification lit a fire under her team.
"They're really fighting for spots," Storgaard said. "We're already seeing upsets on the ladder and it's really great when you can see that kind of excitement from the girls to know that a door has been opened that maybe wasn't open before and they're ready to push through it. I think the girls can taste the blood and they're that much more eager to go at it."
Only time will tell who will hoist the first 3A trophy.
"The girls are excited to be out there on the court and let it rip," Ulrich said.
"We were fighting for it at 4A, we're going to be fighting for it at 3A," Storgaard said. "I'm really proud of my girls and the preseason effort that they put forth. We're excited to see how we stack up in this new classification."
Girls tennis preview
- Regular season begins: Feb. 27
- Regionals: Completed by May 6
- 5A: May 11-13, Gates Tennis Center, Denver
- 4A: May 11-13, Pueblo City Park, Pueblo, Colo.
- 3A: May 11-13, Centennial Park, Greeley, Colo.
Returning all-state players:
- 5A: Hunter Barker, Ponderosa, Sr., No. 1 doubles; Seraphin Castelino, Fairview, So., No. 1 singles; Ky Ecton, Poudre, Jr., No. 1 singles; Micha Handler, Cherry Creek, Jr., No. 2 singles; Erinn Hogan, Fossil Ridge, Sr., No. 3 doubles; Allison Murphy, Cherry Creek, Sr., No. 2 doubles; Lindsey Noble, Fossil Ridge, Sr., No. 3 doubles; Sophie Pearson, Fairview, So. No. 3 singles; Denali Pinto, Fairview, Jr., No. 4 doubles; Sydney Waite, Ponderosa, Sr., No. 1 doubles; Emily Wilkens, Cherry Creek, Jr. No. 2 doubles
- 4A: Casey Ahrendsen, Cheyenne Mountain, Sr., No. 1 doubles; Ally Arenson, Cheyenne Mountain, Sr., No. 1 doubles; Ariana Arenson, Cheyenne Mountain, So., No. 3 doubles; Natalie Bronsdon, Kent Denver, Jr., No. 3 singles; Taylor Heinicke, Cheyenne Mountain, So., No. 4 doubles; Mattie Kuntzelman, Discovery Canyon, So., No. 2 singles; Josie Schaffer, Kent Denver, So., No. 1 singles; Sara Schoenbeck, Pueblo West, Sr,. No. 1 singles; Shannon Wallace, Cheyenne Mountain, Sr., No. 4 doubles
- 3A: None