NIWOT — As a trainer for the girls tennis team, Niwot's Riley Black had a front-row seat for the Cougars' state championship in the spring.
Black and the Cougars boys team finished fourth at state last fall and are hoping to take a page from their female counterparts' accomplishments and win state. With nine state qualifiers returning and having finished in the top four for the past nine straight year, the Cougars think this fall might be season they finally break through and win their program's first team title.
"I was actually there in Pueblo last year," Black said. "Just being there and seeing that energy and excitement they had was really motivating. We really want to match what they did and we'll take some pointers from them as to what we need to do in order to accomplish our goals. I think the talent is there, we just need to do everything we can to make the best of it."
At 3-0 in duals so far this season, the Cougars returned nine state qualifiers from last season's fourth-place team, including all three singles players. The Cougars set their sights on the state championship at the beginning of every season but this year's team has a different feel to it, one they believe might hold the key to unlocking the elusive team title they've been chasing.
"It's a huge motivation," Niwot head coach Miikka Keronen said. "Now we need to do our thing. A state title is super hard to get because there are a lot of good teams out there. They all know each other, they play together, they practice with each other and I'm sure they talk about it. For the girls, it was just the perfect storm last spring. They boys are looking to match that this fall."
Black placed third in Class 4A at No. 2 singles last season and Neil Wilcox, who is now a sophomore, reached the quarterfinals at No. 1 singles. Cougars senior Manas Sani reached the quarterfinals at No. 3 singles last season and all four Niwot doubles pairs qualified for the state tournament in 2017.
"We are loaded," Keronen said. "If we get to the point where I think we can get to, we are definitely up there this year. I like Neil Wilcox at one singles. Last year, he learned what this is all about and he's one of the best players in the state. Riley Black at two singles has placed several times. Then we have great competitions at every position after that, and that's what you want. That makes it very interesting for us this season. If we get it right, we are pretty darn good."