DENVER – The Cherry Creek girls tennis team isn’t used to waiting long between state championships.
The Bruins won three straight Class 5A team titles from 2017-19. But when an unexpected newcomer in COVID-19 blocked them from a title in 2020, the Bruins were forced to sit idle and wait for another shot at extending their streak. On Saturday at Gates Tennis Center, an unusually hungry Cherry Creek girls amassed 66 team points to run away from Fairview – the 2016 champion – to leave the 5A state tournament with the trophy once again.
Even for decorated Bruins like senior Halley Mackiernan, who has never lost a match at state and has now been part of three team titles amidst the Bruins’ seemingly endless run of winning 22 out of the last 23 championships, this most recent victory was exceptional.
“We’ve all been waiting for this for so long, especially not being able to play the season last year,” Mackiernan said. “It’s finally here and it’s a great feeling unlike any other state championship. I’m so sad to leave the team, but I’m so happy we were able to come back out here and win this one after wanting it for so long.”
The individual gold went to Boulder’s Lily Chitambar, but not without a fight from Smoky Hill’s Valerie Negin. After defeating 2019 No. 2 singles champion Alexis Bernthal in the semifinals, Negin pushed Chitambar to the brink during a three-set match that included a first-set comeback from being down 5-0 to win a tiebreaker before the Boulder junior eventually prevailed, 6-7, 6-0, 6-4.
“I just tried to stay as mentally tough as I could,” said Chitambar, who placed fourth as a freshman in 2019. “It was super hot and after she came back from 0-5, I was a little shaken up. I just tried to go one point at a time and stay tough. It felt really good and it was definitely more exciting to win the championship because she’s such a good player and it was such a good match.”
The rest of Saturday’s finals resembled a head-to-head dual match between the Bruins and the Fairview Knights, who trailed the eventual champions by just two points to start Day 2. Cherry Creek advanced to the finals at six of the seven total ladder spots and played Fairview head-to-head in five of those matches.
At No. 2 singles, Cherry Creek’s Lorena Cedeno beat Fairview’s Natalie Stone, 6-2, 4-6, 6-0. At No. 3 singles, Cherry Creek’s Anika Sharma edged Fairview freshman Alexis Bernthal, 7-5, 4-6, 6-4.
Cherry Creek twins Eliza Hill and Nicole Hill, who played together for the first time this season, won 6-3, 6-1 over Fairview’s Virginia Gomulka and Elizabeth Roth at No. 1 doubles. In the No. 2 doubles finals, Mackiernan and Anna Fusaris won 6-4, 4-6, 6-4 against Fairview’s Jane Roth and Maya Brakhage. The No. 3 doubles title match went in favor of Cherry Creek’s Victoria Moldovan and Jisele Boker, who beat Fairview’s Mia Grayson, 6-2, 6-2. At No. 4 doubles, Cherry Creek’s Ella Barclay and Vivienne Bersin won 6-2, 6-0 over Fossil Ridge’s Katie Sollenberger and Avery MacKenzie.
The Bruins have now won 37 championships in total.
“The girls just persisted and they were intent on spending time together this season,” Cherry Creek head coach Chris Jacob said. “They bonded in a great way in a short amount of time and I think that made a huge difference. Our senior leadership was tremendous and when I see matches like two singles and three singles where the girls are cheering each other on and our girls are nervous but that helps them fight through it, I know a lot of that has to do with that connection they’ve made with one another.
“To do that in six weeks is pretty impressive.”
Fairview finished runner-up with 39 team points.
Heritage won the sportsmanship award.