PUEBLO — One look at Niwot freshman Lucy Lu and it’s not hard to remember that Kent Denver’s Josie Schaffer also pulled off a stunning feat as a freshman.
Schaffer battled her way through the No. 1 singles bracket and claimed a state championship in 2016. Lu has a chance to make the same kind of history at the Class 4A state girls tennis tournament. But she has to get through Schaffer to do it.
The two-time defending champion versus the highly-touted freshman. This is what championship Saturday’s are made of and Schaffer can still remember her first one two years ago.
“That was the most nervous I’ve ever been,” Schaffer said. “Being on that court and having everyone watching you is a terrifying experience, but at the same time, it’s exhilarating. It’s so fun. I’m really happy she gets the opportunity to do that too.”
Lu cruised in her semifinal match against last year’s runner-up, Durango’s Mavis Edwards. She went 6-0, 6-1 to continue the dominating play that she has wowed fans with since the start of the tournament on Thursday.
And with three decisive victories under her belt, she heads into Saturday knowing that it’s going to be tough to beat Schaffer, but she certainly has a shot to do it.
“I’m definitely more confident winning three-straight matches,” Lu said. “But tomorrow is going to be more tough. Obviously, I’m not going to win easy tomorrow, so I just have to go out and try my best and if I lose, that’s fine. I’m out here enjoying the experience.”
Beyond building her own legend at Pueblo City Park, Lu’s match has more implications for Niwot than it does for Kent Denver. Heading into Saturday, the Cougars are in first place in the team standings with defending champion Cheyenne Mountain just five points behind.
Both teams have five positions in Saturday’s finals, three of which will be against each other. Niwot took the early team lead after Thursday’s rounds, but knew they had plenty of work to do if it was going to dethrone the Indians from the top of the podium.
“We wanted seven (into finals), but we knew we had to get five,” Niwot coach Aimee Keronen said.
It makes for a more interesting Saturday than last year when Cheyenne Mountain had clinched the team championship before play concluded on Friday.
Now the Indians are in the position where they have to battle tooth and nail if they want to claim a 10th consecutive title. For a coach looking to teach his kids to compete, it’s a situation that Cheyenne Mountain coach David Adams won’t shy away from, even if he doesn’t necessarily crave it.
“It’s definitely more exciting, I don’t know that I’d say it’s more fun,” Adams said. “It takes a few years off our lives going through this. But that’s how it’s supposed to be. Tomorrow is going to come down to both of us. We’re focused on trying to win the whole thing, as is Niwot.”
All finals and third-place matches will begin at 9 a.m. at Pueblo City Park on Saturday.