LAFAYETTE — It wasn't all that long ago that Dawson tennis coach Kathy Benninghoff and her assistants assumed control of the Mustangs middle school program.
Little did she know at the time how much that move would pay dividends less than four years later.
"The benefits of that extra effort are starting to appear," said Benninghoff, who enters her 10th season at the helm of the Mustangs program. "The older guys have been doing this since they were in seventh grade and there is just a very positive dynamic around this team."
And it's a team that has played with a chip on its shoulder from the get-go. Always has and always will. The Mustangs have the enrollment of a 2A school but have to compete against the 4A schools in conference and at state.
They get it and it is what drives them.
"That is why we are out there putting in the hours even before the first official practice," Benninghoff said. "Because we know if we don't play hard, we are just going to be a little school."
And unlike most school where the leadership comes from the top of the ladder and the top singles players, at Dawson, the strength of the team is in the doubles.
Seniors Seth Clemente, Cade McClellan, Ben Howson and Ryan Otto all went to state last season in Pueblo and will bring a new found winning mentality to the team. Especially Clemente and McClellan, who were each a part of the Dawson baseball team that won a 2A state title last spring.
McClellan, whose family moved to Wisconsin over the summer, decided to stay in Colorado and is living with Clemente.
"He stayed primarily for sports because he played such an integral role for both teams last year," said Benninghoff, whose team — along with Silver Creek —moves out of the grueling Region 5 tournament at Niwot to Region 4 in Greeley. "That is something pretty special when you have somebody that dedicated to their sports teams."
Junior Connor Larson has played the top two singles spots in his first two season, including No. 1 last year, and will be competing with incoming freshman Riley Burridge for the top spot this season. Carter Holbrook will likely fill out the singles positions.
The Mustangs have been on the courts a lot this summer and not just in Colorado. Several players have played in tennis academies across the country, finding ways to better their games.
"There was a lot of contact with the tennis racket," Benninghoff added. "And it is showing."