NIWOT -- Harrison Lang proved he was capable of winning Class 4A's top tennis title as a sophomore but a desired repeat eluded him as a junior.
After losing in the 2011 finals, Lang is determined to get back on top of the 4A mountain in his final ascent through the 4A state tournament starting Thursday in Pueblo. A year older and wiser, Lang believes he's put himself in a good position to make a run at reclaiming the No. 1 singles title.
"It's my last chance to get another state title so that's my main goal," Lang said. "I'm just going to take it one match at a time. I feel like I have some good preparation with matches toward the end of the season. I think I'm ready."
One year ago, Kent Denver freshman David Mitchell felled Lang 6-4, 0-6, 2-6 in the finals. Now their positions are switched and Lang said Mitchell, who he has little doubt he will face again in the finals, is his biggest obstacle.
The freshman's consistency combined with an abdominal injury Lang suffered the day before the tournament caused Lang to fade late in last year's title match. Lang said the Sun Devils freshman also figured out his serve and used that to his advantage.
Since the defeat, Lang has grown more confident in every aspect of his game.
"It's just another year of practice, getting more comfortable and improving everything," Lang said. "My serve is definitely better than it was a year ago. My forehand is a lot better, too."
Lang also said he has been working on a strategy in practice specifically designed to beat Mitchell.
The Cougars' top player brings a 12-0 record to the state tournament. He'll need to win three matches, including a semifinal he expects to play with Discovery Canyon's Luke Lorenz, to get another shot at Mitchell, who is on the other side of the draw.
Harrison Lang has been itching for a shot to reclaim his title. No one knows that better than his sophomore brother Spencer Lang.
"It hurt a little bit, especially getting so close last year," said Spencer Lang, who will vie for a No. 2 singles title after winning No. 3 singles in 2011. "I feel like he's worked really hard this year."
Niwot finished second in the team competition last year. The Cougars were 18 points behind Cheyenne Mountain, who swept all four doubles championships.
Both Lang brothers said the Cougars are playing better toward the end of the year. They also hope duals against Cheyenne Mountain and Cherry Creek, and a scrimmage against Fairview, have prepared them for the competition they'll face in the state tournament.
Cheyenne Mountain is favored to repeat and the Indians beat the Cougars 5-2 in a late-season dual. But both Langs won their matches and two of the three doubles pairs lost in three sets. For the Cougars to contend, freshman Allen Fu will have to play well at No. 3 singles and all four doubles pairs will have to step up.
"I feel like we've made a huge progression as a team to get to the level we want to be at," Spencer Lang said. "We feel like, if we play well, we've definitely got a shot."
As for Harrison Lang, Cougars head coach Miikka Keronen said the state tournament and the expected finals rematch with Mitchell will be a battle. The winner, he said, may be decided on which player is at his best on that day.
But Keronen said if there ever was a time for Harrison Lang to put it all together, this is it.
"He's a lot taller, stronger, bigger right now," Keronen said. "His game is more mature. He's definitely in a good spot right now."
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