When the Class 4A state tournament draw is released in early October, the No. 1 singles bracket will be missing a familiar name.
After claiming back-to-back state championships for Kent Denver, Casey Ross graduated. That's good news for the rest of the 4A classification, if only because Ross – who won three state titles overall and was a runner-up as a sophomore – was a big hurdle to clear.
"I think players have a lot of respect for Casey, and from what I could see, he deserved it," Peak to Peak coach Eric Farran said. "I think realistically it's much more open this year. I think there's a lot of talent in that draw; with Casey gone, it's absolutely much more open."
Half of the 16 state qualifiers at No. 1 singles graduated, including Ross. Four of the remaining eight were sophomores a year ago, and two of those reached the semifinals at the position.
Peak to Peak's Brett Finan advanced to the finals before falling 6-4, 6-0 to Ross. Discovery Canyon's Nick Lorenz, a 2015 finalist as a freshman, lost to Ross in the semifinals.
"Obviously Casey is a really good player," Finan said. "I was not too disappointed that I lost to him, but I was happy with my performance."
Finan, Lorenz and Colorado Academy's Richter Jordaan are among a wave of juniors who are expected to contend for the title this fall. Jordaan was the runner-up at No. 2 singles as a freshman and placed third at No. 1 singles as a sophomore.
"I think this is going to be one of the most competitive 4A tournaments we've ever had. There are about five or six really good teams that have a lot of returners from last year, and all of them have good singles players," said Colorado Academy coach Brian Singer, whose team finished second in 2016 behind now four-time defending champion Kent Denver.
"That No. 1 position is going to be very heated as far as everybody competing for that championship at the end of the season. I think it's going to be a fun year in tennis, especially for the spectators, who are going to get a treat this year."
Finan spent part of his summer training in Florida, and competed in a number of tournaments. He's known competitors like Lorenz and Jordaan for years, and understands that the fight for the top spot in the state won't be an easy one.
"I grew up playing with them since I was like 10, so I know them well," he said. "When it comes to playing a match, you put your friendship aside and nothing else matters but the match. But afterward, no matter what happened in the match, you’re still going to be friends."
Peak to Peak qualified three of its seven positions to state last fall, with Teo Cariov winning his first match at No. 2 singles as a sophomore. The Pumas graduated four seniors.
Kent Denver won six of the seven individual titles in 2016 on its way to a fourth-consecutive team championship. The Sun Devils edged Colorado Academy in three finals, including a No. 2 singles crown from junior Jack Moldenhauer.
The Mustangs graduated only two seniors, and return Jordaan, Quinn Bermingham and Jordan Wagner at the singles positions. Colorado Academy qualified its entire team to state despite having graduated eight seniors from the previous season.
Singer believes he has a good team once again, but acknowledged that Kent Denver is the favorite until another team can take it away from them.
"We would like to become the man, but the only way you become the man is you’ve got to beat the man on top right now. Kent is that team," Singer said. "Until someone steps up and dethrones them, they own the title right now."
Cherry Creek captured its sixth consecutive 5A championship last fall and 42nd overall, holding off second-place Fairview by 21 points.
The Bruins won titles at No. 1 and No. 2 singles and No. 3 and No. 4 doubles. Cherry Creek loses singles champions Ethan Hillis and Robby Hill to graduation, but returns its title-winning contingent in doubles.
Fossil Ridge's Akhil Gupta won the No. 3 singles crown as a freshman, and Regis Jesuit's Evan Nuss and Emilio Gonzalez-Cruz won the No. 2 doubles title as sophomores.
Overland's Dawid Kijak was the runner-up to Hillis at No. 1 singles as a junior.
Boys Tennis preview
- Regular season begins: Aug. 17
- Regionals: Completed by Oct. 7
- 5A: Oct. 12-14, Gates Tennis Center (Denver)
- 4A: Oct. 12-14, Pueblo City Park
Defending state champions:
Returning all-state players:
- 5A: Nick Eidler, Sr., Cherry Creek; Emilio Gonzalez-Cruz, Jr., Reguit Jesuit; Akhil Gupta, Soph., Fossil Ridge; Stone Heyman, Sr., Cherry Creek; Dawid Kijak, Sr., Overland; Evan Nuss, Jr., Regis Jesuit; Zach Smith, Sr., Cherry Creek; Nick Svichar, Sr., Cherry Creek.
- 4A: Brett Finan, Jr., Peak to Peak; Oliver Greenwald, Sr., Kent Denver; Jack Moldenhauer, Sr., Kent Denver; Sam Nassif, Sr., Kent Denver; Laird Stewart, Sr., Kent Denver; Alex Wimer, Sr., Kent Denver.