DENVER — The No. 1 singles bracket is loaded with talent and experience at this season's Class 5A girls tennis state tournament.
A total of six girls returned from last season's No. 1 singles tournament, and a seventh was a veteran of the draw from two seasons ago. The field featured last year's runner up, Rock Canyon junior Meghna Chowdhury, as well as the third-place finisher, junior Veronika Bruetting of ThunderRidge.
Others who returned from the 2018 bracket include Arapahoe's Julia Rydel, Mountain Vista's Madi Allen, Denver East's Emma Morrissey, and Highlands Ranch's Audrey O'Rear,
To top it off, the draw also included Fairview senior Sophie Pearson — who was a No. 1 singles quarterfinalist in 2017, and the 2016 No. 3 singles champion — and Cherry Creek sophomore Eliza Hill, who won No. 2 singles last season.
This year's No. 1 singles bracket featured just two freshman, the fewest since 2016: Boulder's Lily Chitambar and Cherokee Trail's Alissa Gurkovskiy. And both girls entered the draw as regional champions.
So, the first round of the bracket brought some grueling competition. And two matches went to three sets.
Chowdhury was pushed to three sets in a first-round match against Gurkovskiy in which she battled through injuries and rallied to win the third set in a tie break (4-6, 6-3, 7-6). She then was up in her second match versus Rydel (7-6, 5-4) but defaulted in the second set with an injury.
In a great display of sportsmanship, Rydel rushed to Chowdhury's side of the court to check on her, and then carried her bag off the court.
Chitambar won her first match (6-0, 6-1) before falling to Pearson, from crosstown rival Fairview, in three sets in the second round. Pearson won the match 6-2, 6-7, 6-3. It marks Pearson's second time in the No. 1 singles quarterfinal in her career.
Bruetting also had a grueling three-set match in the first round, against Mountain Vista's Madi Allen. After dropping the first set 7-5, Bruetting rallied to win the match with 6-2 and 6-1 sets. The ThunderRidge junior, who reached the semifinals last season before finishing third, returned to the quarterfinals with a 7-6, 6-0 win against Chatfield's Mikaela Mueller later in the day.
It was a contrast from the previous five seasons: The 2018, 2017 and 2014 tournaments had just one No. 1 singles match split in the first round. The 2016 and 2015 tournaments had none.
The second round brought more of the same with the split between Pearson and Chitambar, as well as a split between Smoky Hill's Valerie Negin and Hill. Negin pulled the match out, 7-6, 2-6, 6-4. It sets up a semifinal match against Bruetting of ThunderRidge.
On the other side, Fairview's Pearson and Arapahoe's Rydel will play for a chance to reach the final.
ThunderRidge has never had a No. 1 singles champion. Arapahoe has had one, in 2014, while Smoky Hill and Fairview have each had three No. 1 champions. Smoky's last No. 1 singles champion was in 1987. Fairview's most recent came in 2016.
Team score update
Perennial power Cherry Creek heads the field after play on the first day of the two-day event.
The Bruins, who have won the past two championships and 21 of the past 22, amassed 17 points.
Fort Collins sits in second with 12. The Lambkins' highest finish as a program is second — a feat they've done three times, most recently in 2006. They were fourth last season.
Chatfield is third with 11 points, Fossil Ridge is fourth with 10, and Arapahoe and Mountain Vista each have seven points in fifth.
The tournament will resume at 8 a.m. on Saturday with all matches held at Gates Tennis Center.
The day will begin with all semifinal matches, followed immediately by playback rounds. The finals and all placing matches will be played upon the completion of the first two rounds of playbacks.