5A girls tennis: Cherry Creek holds narrow lead after Day 1

(Brad Cochi/CHSAANow.com)

It seems like forever since the last girls tennis state tournament took place in Colorado, but a pair of perennial contenders have picked up right where they left off in Class 5A with a slew of new faces in this year's field.

Cherry Creek, which has won 21 of the last 22 team titles, and Fairview – the only other 5A team to claim a trophy over that span – began to separate themselves once again on Day 1 of the state tournament at Gates Tennis Center on Friday. When play resumes with semifinals on Saturday, Cherry Creek will be in the lead with 21 team points and Fairview will open the final day just two points behind the Bruins.

"It's so exciting because it's been two years," Fairview head coach Susan Stensrud said. "For us, that means that a large bulk of my team has been been here before. The vibe is that we're just thrilled and excited to be here and to come back tomorrow."

At No. 1 singles, defending 2019 champion Valerie Negin of Smoky Hill is still alive in her bid to defend the title she won two years ago when she debuted at the state tournament as a sophomore. In Saturday's penultimate round, Negin will face defending No. 2 singles champion Alexis Bernthal. Either Boulder's Lily Chitamber or Cherry Creek's Jaque Pearsall, who will meet in the opposing semifinal, awaits the winner.

In total, the Cherry Creek Bruins advanced their players to the semifinals at all seven roster spots. Fairview players are still alive in six brackets. The Ralston Valley Mustangs, who finished Day 1 at third in the team scoring, advanced players to three semifinals.

"This season for us has been magical," Ralston Valley head coach Kim Greason said. "With two years off, more than half of my squad has never had varsity-level competition. A lot of them are new, but we won league and our girls really gelled. Although they may not have the years of experience under their belt like some of these other teams, they've got that team spirit and that cohesiveness that a lot of the time pulls them through matches because they know they're playing for each other."

Semifinals for this year's single-elimination tournament will begin at 9 a.m. on Saturday. Poudre, Fort Collins, Heritage, Fossil Ridge, Chatfield and Denver East will also have players competing championships when they do.

"We're looking forward to tough matches at every spot," Cherry Creek head coach Chris Jacob said. "We're expecting a challenge right from the beginning of the day. I'm happy with how the girls played today and we've prepared as well as we could in a short amount of time, but we know there are lots of good teams out there so we know we'll have tough matches at every position."

(Brad Cochi/CHSAANow.com)