DENVER – Morgan Schilling’s serve was simply electric Saturday afternoon.
The Regis Jesuit senior was ripping off aces with ease at Gates Tennis Center as he defended his Class 5A boys tennis No. 1 singles championship. Schilling unloaded 16 aces in his title match with Cherry Creek’s George Cavo, including the final one on match point to secure the 6-1, 6-2 victory and his second consecutive state title.
“I’ve never seen a junior (player) with a serve like his,” Cavo said. “He trains super hard, works super hard, and he’s a great player. I’ve got to give my hat off to him.”
Cavo and his Bruins teammates did come away with the team trophy Saturday, the school’s 43rd overall, but the first since 2016. All seven positions reached the finals, and all four doubles team won state championships. Cherry Creek finished with 59 points, followed by Regis Jesuit at 55 points.
Schilling didn’t drop a set over the two days at Gates. He rolled past Ralston Valley’s Dayton Fisher 6-2, 6-1 in Saturday morning’s semifinal round, then had to wait while Cavo gutted out a 7-6, 6-2 victory over Fairview’s Luke Silverman. Schilling defeated Silverman in last year’s title match.
Cavo, who rallied from a 5-3 deficit in the first set of his semifinal match with Silverman, wasn’t able to break Schilling’s serve in any game in the finals. The Regis Jesuit senior fired off four aces in the final game, and after the last one tucked inside the line and past Cavo, the two friends walked to the net and embraced.
“I saw it bounce and my stomach dropped,” Schilling said. “I was so relieved – all this weight off my shoulders. I just took a deep breath.”
Schilling is the first player to defend his No. 1 singles title since Chatfield’s Christian Holmes did in 2017-18.
Ironically it was Holmes who ended Schilling’s season at the state tournament his first two years. Homes defeated Schilling in the first round of his freshman year, and then again in the state championship match in 2018 – even after Schilling jumped out early against him.
“Christian dealt with pressure really well,” Schilling said. “He just didn’t give up, and that’s what I’m taking away – never give up.”
While Cavo didn’t come away with an individual title, he still had something to celebrate. With Cherry Creek and Regis Jesuit engaging in a tense back-and-forth for first place after the first day, the Bruins took a 12-point lead into the finals. Despite Regis Jesuit sweeping the Bruins in each of the singles matches, Cherry Creek locked up the crown after its No. 4 doubles team of Blake Holst and Matt Hu defeated Valor Christian in a three-set thriller.
“I haven’t been able to experience a state title with the team,” Cavo said. “It’s a great feeling for sure.”
Brothers Kiril and Kristian Kostadinov got the ball rolling for Cherry Creek at No. 1 doubles, taking care of Valor Christian’s David Bomgaars and Luke Beukelman 6-4, 6-3, to cap an unbeaten season.
For Kiril, it was his second consecutive title at No. 1 doubles. As a freshman, he teamed with Aram Izmirian to win a championship.
Getting to do it again Saturday, this time with his brother, was that much sweeter.
“It was a good experience,” Kostadinov said. “We’ve tried playing together in the past and it hasn’t worked out. This year we did really good.”
Ainsley Elliott-Beagle and Casey Dennis won the No. 3 doubles crown 6-2, 7-6 over Regis Jesuit, and the No. 2 tandem of Braden Meyer and Nathan Henden rallied to top Fossil Ridge 6-3, 4-6, 7-6 (7-3) in the final match of the day.
Regis Jesuit’s Conor Kaczmarczyk took home the No. 2 singles crown with a hard-fought 6-1, 1-6, 6-0 victory over Cherry Creek’s Matt Batnunkh. The Bruins junior was coming off a three-set victory in the semifinals that went to a tiebreaker in the third set.
In a battle of sophomores at No. 3 singles, Cameron Kruep topped Izmirian 6-3, 6-3, to win his second title.
The state tournament was the first to decide a state champion since ice hockey last February, with the COVID-19 pandemic shutting down the state basketball tournament and wiping out the spring sports season.
The players were thrilled with the opportunity to get to compete this fall and finish things off in a shortened-season.
“Even in July I was like no way we would have a tennis season with all the COVID cases going up and up,” Schilling said. “We are all really fortunate that tennis is a social-distant sport; you’re on opposite sides of the court.
“I’m really happy we got to play.”