A little more than a year ago, Hunter Barker and Sydney Waite permanently etched their names into Ponderosa tennis lore.
Now the Mustangs' No. 1 doubles tandem is eager to show that two really is better than one.
Barker and Waite battled their way to the top at the Class 5A state girls tennis tournament last spring, capturing the Mustangs' first state championship since Kaley Carmichael won the No. 3 singles crown back in 2009. The pair finds themselves as the team to beat in a loaded field when the 5A tournament gets rolling Thursday morning at Gates Tennis Center in Denver.
Their pursuit of the tennis version of the double-double begins against Chatfield's Catherine Day and Kira Coffee.
"I think this year, with the pressure of defending the title, hopefully it won’t get to us," Waite said. "It's definitely a different feeling, but we're going to try to go out there and play our best without overthinking it too much."
Fortunately for Ponderosa, a senior-laden team that qualified six of its seven positions to state is a battle-tested bunch.
"My lineup is seven seniors, so I’ve had them for four years," Mustangs coach Lisa Damico Anderson said. "Three years ago when they were all at state, they were all pretty nervous and shaky.
"They’ve really, really believed that they deserve to be there and to win it."
Ponderosa has a strong foundation in the sport, having placed second in the team standings in 2008 and 2009 behind Cherry Creek – which won 19 consecutive 5A titles until Fairview ended that run a year ago. But the Mustangs had not finished higher than eighth place until last May, when they tied for sixth with Fossil Ridge.
Barker and Waite won a three-set battle in the semifinals with Cherry Creek before defeating Arapahoe’s Natalie Sloboth and Elizabeth Palmer in straight sets in the championship match.
"When Sydney and Hunter won state, it just enlightened everyone, especially the doubles lines," Damico Anderson said. "If they could do it, we have the ability to do it too. They really were leaders for us in that."
The No. 1 doubles bracket also includes Cherry Creek’s Allison Murphy and Emily Wilkins, who won the No. 2 doubles title in 2016; and Fossil Ridge’s Erinn Hogan and Lindsey Noble, the reigning No. 3 doubles champions.
Ponderosa, which competes at the 4A level in most sports but has remained in 5A for tennis, captured the Continental League title this spring and won the Region 3 tournament last weekend. Freshman Hana Kimmey, senior Claire Cox – a four-time qualifier who finished third as a freshman at No. 3 singles – and junior Amber Glantz will represent the Mustangs at state at the singles positions.
Anna Armstrong and Madison Smith won regionals at No. 2 doubles, and twins Alyssa and Jenna Lowe did the same at No. 3 doubles.
Barker, a three-sport athlete who will play volleyball at the University of Bridgeport in Connecticut in the fall, played No. 4 doubles as a sophomore before teaming up with Waite a year ago.
"It was really awesome to be partners with her again," Barker said. "We already had that great chemistry last year. I hope we can bring that same energy to state again."
Damico Anderson said what makes this group so special is how hard they work in and out of the classroom as well. The girls tennis team has received the Les Schwab Academic Team Performance award four years in a row, and the squad has combined with Legend and coach Craig Marshall to give back through the Acing Autism program at Pinery Country Club in Parker.
The players help teach children with autism how to play tennis.
"I think the reason why the team is so successful is because they are successful people in life," Damico Anderson said. "They get it."
Also in 5A: Fairview, Cherry Creek, Denver East, Mountain Vista and Ralston Valley each qualified its entire team to Gates Tennis Center.
A new champion will be crowned at No. 1 singles after Fairview's Seraphin Castelino didn't come out for her sophomore season.
The favorites include Poudre junior Ky Ecton, the runner-up at No. 1 singles last spring; Cherry Creek's Micha Handler, who won it all at No. 2 singles; Fairview's Sophie Pearson, the reigning No. 3 singles champion; and Mountain Vista senior Casey Zhong, a semifinalist at No. 1 singles last May.
Class 4A preview
Cheyenne Mountain, winner of the previous eight 4A state titles, qualified its entire team for the 4A state tournament that opens Thursday at Pueblo City Park.
Defending No. 1 singles champion Josie Schaffer of Kent Denver returns, as does runner-up Sara Schoenbeck of Pueblo West.
Discovery Canyon’s Maddie Kuntzelman, who won the No. 2 singles title as a freshman, has moved up to No. 1 singles.
Class 3A preview
Colorado Academy, which placed fifth in 4A last spring, is expected to be among the favorites in the inaugural 3A classification. (Find full draws here.) The Mustangs qualified their entire team to the meet at Centennial Park in Greeley.
D’Evelyn and Holy Family, which finished tied for sixth in 4A, also drop down to 3A and qualified all seven positions as well.