PUEBLO — Even if it feels like Niwot sophomore Lucy Lu enters the match as an underdog, there is something about playing at Pueblo City Park that just brings out her best on the tennis court.
That was the case when she handed Kent Denver’s Josie Schaffer a loss in last year’s No. 1 singles championship match and the same held true this year in a 7-5, 6-1 to claim her second-straight gold medal in the Class 4A state tennis tournament.
“It’s just the environment,” Lu said. “I just get excited and I think it just pumps me up more. But it was a great match. I enjoy playing here and it’s a great site to play at.”
Last year, Lu’s win was an exclamation mark on a remarkable season in which Niwot knocked off Cheyenne Mountain, who was a nine-time defending state champion. Coach Aimee Keronen said this week that she had come to be jealous of the target that Cheyenne had because of the standing that came with it.
In the Cougars’ turn as defending champs, they got everything and then some from each opponent. But it was the Indians who clinched the 4A team title, scoring 76 points on the weekend, just out of reach of Niwot’s 71.
“We knew it was going to be a close thing and we knew there would be a lot of, what I call, snakes in the grass,” Cheyenne Mountain coach Dave Adams said. “It wasn’t necessarily going to be Niwot knocking people out.”
As the finals and third and fourth-place matches began, it became clear that each match was going to count in the team race.
Cheyenne Mountain delivered the first blow as a win in No. 1 doubles from Emma Delich and Sydney Wagner added crucial points to the team total.
Morgan Hall worked her way through playbacks, earned a key nine points that played a major factor in the final standings. The Indians officially clinched the title when Ariana Arenson got a 6-3, 6-0 win in the No. 3 singles third-place match.
That win put the Cheyenne Mountain point total at 72 points. There was no way for the Cougars to match that number.
“We just let everything fall, but of course we were hungry for redemption," Arenson said. "We called this a redemption year. When we huddled before the matches, we said we were just going to leave it all out there.”
Last year it was Niwot who ended Cheyenne Mountain's run of nine title wins in a row. Adams is more than happy to be a winner of 10 of the last 11 state titles and noted that the way Cheyenne Mountain won this year was far more rewarding than rolling through the tournament as it had at times during that stretch.
"It has to be," Adams said. "To be able to compete and have the good fortune of coming out on top of a funky tennis season as a whole and a funky tournament. I mean people were playing three matches in a day. It's been very rewarding."
For all the winners it was a rewarding day. As Schaffer exited the court for the final time in her high school career, Lu couldn't help but think that things won't get any easier in the next two years. The Kent Denver star won in her first two tries at state, so the experience of the last two tournaments is something the Niwot sophomore hopes to take note of. Because as of now, she's going to have the best gunning for her the way she took aim at Schaffer's spot.
“I think it’s an honor to have that target," Lu said. "She’s motivated me to work hard and having people put a target on my back will make me want to work harder too.”
As team awards were handed out, Evergreen was awarded the Vicky Matarrazo Sportsmanship Award. Assistant commissioner Bethany Brookens noted during the ceremony that eight team received nominations for that award this year.