PUEBLO — When Niwot freshman Lucy Lu finished off her match point in the No. 1 singles final, she simultaneously ended two championship runs.
For the first time since 2015, Josie Schaffer was not the top singles champion. And for the first time since 2008, Cheyenne Mountain wasn’t going home with a team title. Lu’s win gave the Cougars enough points to wrap up the team title to go right along with her win in the singles championship.
In 2018, the Class 4A state girls tennis tournament belonged to Niwot.
“I’m just so proud of my team and I’m so happy,” Lu said. “This has been our goal. We went in thinking this is probably our best chance in a while because our best players are seniors.”
The freshman and Schaffer, the two-time defending No. 1 singles champion, put on quite a show for the spectators at Pueblo City Park. Their first set had the makings of an instant classic as fans on both sides looked on in awe as the two standouts traded points and games back and forth.
“I could hear so many people cheering for Josie, but I had to just block that out and feed off whoever was cheering for me,” Lu said. “I just had to ignore everything outside of my control.”
Lu had two chances to hold her serve and win the first set, but Schaffer was able to break both times and send it into a tiebreaker.
Again, it seemed that Lu had the advantage, taking a 6-3 lead. Schaffer again battled back and even took a 8-7 lead, but Lu rebounded with three-straight points to take the set and gain a crucial advantage.
“That was a very competitive first set,” Schaffer said. “Losing it by that much, just a few points, was heartbreaking to deal with. Going into the second set, I was trying to make myself more motivated and really dig in and forget about that first set.”
Schaffer and Lu had met twice before on the court outside of high school competition. Schaffer won both matches, one of them being in three sets. If she was going to come back, she would have to once again take down the freshman in a third set.
But Lu would have none of it. She cruised in the second set, beating Schaffer 6-2. It was the first match that Schaffer has lost at the 4A state tournament.
“After I won the first set, I relaxed a lot more,” Lu said. “I kind of thought about the last time that we split sets but quickly told myself to not think about that and this is a new match. I wasn’t going to choke.”
That mindset held true for the entire Cougars squad. Julia Pentz grabbed a win in No. 3 singles and Niwot also grabbed championships in No. 2, 3 and 4 doubles. They finished the tournament with 86 points, 14 better than Cheyenne Mountain.
“It’s unbelievable that we were able to work as a team like this,” Niwot coach Aimee Keronen said. “We were going through all the scenarios last night and of all the scenarios we had, (the way today turned out) was not how we had it on paper. We exceeded expectations.”
All five teams playing in the finals proudly took the top spot on the podium. After Palmer Ridge received the Vicky Matarazzo Sportsmanship Award and Cheyenne Mountain claimed the runner-up trophy, the team gathered to hoist its team state championship trophy. It’s the second team title for Niwot. The Cougars first title came back in 2008.