DENVER — There is a youth movement sweeping through the Class 5A girls tennis state tournament.
Five freshmen qualified for the No. 1 singles bracket, the most the tournament has seen since 2013, including three regional champions. And there are 14 overall freshmen in the singles draws, as well as an additional 17 playing doubles.
The number of freshmen playing this year — 31 — is way above a typical 5A tournament. Since 2012, an average of 21 freshmen have qualified in 5A, including an average of seven playing singles.
In addition, 46 sophomores qualified. That means a total of 77 of the 176 players at the 5A tournament on Thursday were underclassmen.
Leading the way for the freshmen is Fairview's Natalie Stone, who advanced to the semifinals at No. 1 singles with two wins on Thursday. She will face defending champion Ky Ecton of Poudre, a senior, in Friday's semifinals.
Stone's teammate, Alexis Bernthal, also advanced to the semifinals at No. 2 singles. That position will actually feature all freshmen in the semis.
Alyssa Kawakami, a freshman from Fort Collins, will face Bernthal in that No. 2 singles semifinal.
The other semifinal at No. 2 singles will match ThunderRidge freshman Mackenzie Wheeler against Cherry Creek freshman Eliza Hill.
Cherry Creek alone features seven freshmen, including Hill and her twin sister Nicole Hill, who is into the semifinals at No. 3 singles.
The twins have a lot of tennis in their blood: their brother, Robby, won a No. 2 singles title in 2016, and their father, Rob, won two No. 1 singles championships at Manual in the 1970s.
The Bruins also have an all-freshman duo of Anna Fusaris and Halley Mackiernan into the semifinals at No. 2 doubles.
Fossil Ridge qualified three freshmen to the tournament, while Arapahoe, Boulder, Fairview, Fort Collins, Lakewood, Monarch and ThunderRidge each qualified two.
- The tournament has been changed to a two-day format to avoid poor weather on Saturday, and will complete play Friday. Semifinals will start at 8 a.m.
- Cherry Creek, the defending champion, heads the team race after the first day of play with 19 points. Poudre (11 points) is second, while Fort Collins and Denver East are tied for third with 10 points. The Bruins have won 34 state championships, the most of any program in any classification.
- Ecton, the defending state champion at No. 1 singles, advanced to the semifinals with a 6-0, 6-0 win over Boulder's Gigi Jensen, and then a 6-1, 6-1 win over Cherry Creek's Deena Abdulloeva. Ecton is seeking to become the first repeat 5A champion at No. 1 singles since Poudre's Natalie Dunn did it in 2010.
- Fort Collins' Natalie Hamill had quite the comeback in a marathon match in the first round, beating Monarch's Natalie Sprenger 0-6, 7-5, 7-5 in two hours and 26 minutes. Hamill fell to Rock Canyon's Meghna Chowdhury in the quarterfinals, 6-2, 6-2.