Locals in 4A championship matches
No. 2 singles: Riley Black, Niwot, vs. Clark Steinhauser, Colorado Academy
No. 3 singles: Ben Bicknell, Niwot, vs. Braeden Thomas, Colorado Academy
No. 1 doubles: Sam Keronen/Manas Saini, Niwot, vs. Caleb Aguirre/Emmett Ela, Colorado Academy
No. 2 doubles: Anton Labrouk/Riley Mulshine, Niwot, vs. Nicholas Kietrich/Will Smart, Colorado Academy
No. 4 doubles: Xavier Moy/Jon Lee, Niwot, vs. Ryan Gaghen/Will Miller, Colorado Academy
PUEBLO - The state tournament at Pueblo City Park has been a family affair for Mikka and Aimee Keronoen.
The husband and wife coaching team have led the Niwot Cougars for the better part of seven years, with the pinnacle of their tenure coming last spring when the girls won the Class 4A state title.
They're hoping to create that same success with the boys this year. But the boys team has a little more of a personal twist. When the finals begin play Saturday at 11 a.m., they'll have eight players in five positions take the court in search of championships.
Among those is their son, Sam. The No. 1 doubles team of Sam Keronen and Manas Saini advanced to the finals with a 6-1, 6-4 win over Mullen's JP Starkey and Dante Dino.
Thankfully, dad had his hands full with other matches at the complex, so he wasn't able to obsess over how things were going for Sam and Manas until they were close to wrapping things up.
"I didn't spend a lot of time watching him because we had a lot of matches going on," Mikka said. "It got exciting at the end of his because it got so tight and I was happy to be there at the end."
Tennis is their bond. In all the moments that the Keronens have shared at the state tournament, watching Sam reach his championship match has to be near the top. But they try to hold the same expectation for him in that spot than they would if it was just another player.
"Sometimes we have to remember that he's a player on a team and not just our kid," Aimee said. "We have to keep that in mind and not treat him any differently than any other court we're coaching."
Sam has to do the same thing on his end. The Cougars came to Pueblo with the goal of winning a team state championship. At 60 points after Day 2, they trail Colorado Academy by 17 heading into Saturday.
Which means Sam and the others have work to do. For him it's all about the team goal and not trying to make mom and dad happy.
"I think about it less from my parents' perspective and more from the team's perspective," Sam said. "We just want to come to this tournament and do our best in every match."
Behind his sunglasses and Finnish accent, Mikka spoke of his relationship with Sam much like he was simply another player on the team. But as he talked about their shared experience in Pueblo along the significance the weekend as a while holds for the team, he couldn't fight back tears from creeping down his cheek.
"As soon as we leave here, when (the state tournament is over) we'll go to our next tournament in Vegas," Mikka said. "I see a lot of his matches, but this is a little more special because we're playing for the school. They're playing for each other."
The Cougars still have work to do if they want to come home with the team title. No. 1 singles player Neil Wilcox fell to Colorado Academy's Richter Jordaan 6-1, 6-2 in the semifinals while Sam Bickham and Ivan Calderon were also stopped short of the championship match. They lost to Bennett Liu and Zachary Brinker, also of Colorado Academy, 6-1, 6-2 in the No. 3 doubles semis.
Heading into Saturday, they need a strong showing in the finals. And they know the best way to get the ideal result is for each player in the finals to take care of their own business. Niwot faces Colorado Academy in all five finals that the Cougars advanced to, and they will have to win at least four of those championship matches for a chance to surpass the Mustangs.
"We have a saying on our team: Focus on what's under your feet," senior Riley Black, the Cougars' No. 2 singles player, said. "We're not focused on winning a championship, we're focused on winning the next point, the next game. Hopefully at the end that will bring us a championship."
Black will be among the five Niwot positions in state championship matches which will begin at 11 a.m. Saturday.
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Class 4A state championship
At Pueblo City Park
Team scores — Colorado Academy 77, Niwot 60, Kent Denver 22, Cheyenne Mountain 17, Discovery Canyon 16, Mullen 12, Aspen 6, D'Evelyn 4, Littleton 4, Dawson School 4, Pueblo West 3, Golden 2, Thompson Valley 2, Fountain Valley 2, Steamboat Springs 2, Silver Creek 1, Longmont 1, Air Academy 1.
Singles — 1. Jordaan, Colorado Academy, def. Wilcox, Niwot, 6-1, 6-2; 2. Black, Niwot, def. Greenald, Kent Denver, 6-2, 6-3; 3. Bicknell, Niwot, def. Muhl, Cheyenne Mountain, 6-1, 6-0.
Doubles — 1. Keronen/Saini, Niwot, def. Starkey/Dino, Mullen, 6-1, 6-4; 2. Lavrouk/Mulshine, Niwot, def. Logan/Guthrie, Mullen, 7-5, 6-1; 3. Liu/Brinker, Colorado Academy, def. Bickham/Calderon, Niwot, 6-1, 6-2; 4. Moy/Lee, Niwot, def. Gustafson/Gersabeck, D'Evelyn, 6-4, 6-3.
Singles — 1. Nassif, Kent Denver, def. Holbrook, Dawson School, 6-2, 6-4; Wilcox Niwot, def. Geisz, Cheyenne Mountain, 6-3, 6-3; 2. Black, Niwot, def. Hardy, Thompson Valley, 6-0, 6-1; 3. Bicknell, Niwot, def. Prehn, Golden, 6-0, 6-2; Muhl, Cheyenne Mountain, def. Oliver, Dawson School, 6-3, 7-5; Beckman, Kent Denver, def. O'Brien, Longmont, 6-0, 6-2.
Doubles — 1. Starkey/Dino, Mullen, def. Troughton/Orris, Dawson School, 6-1, 6-2; Keronen.Saini, Niwot, def. Ghali/Sunkel, Aspen, 6-1, 6-4; 2. Logan/Guthrie, Mullen, def. Keeley/grant-Krenz, Dawson School, 6-3, 6-3; Lavrouk/Mulshine, Niwot, def. Fornstrom/Beutelschies, Littleton, 6-2, 6-2; 3. Bickham/Calderon, Niwot, def. Spiller/Reschl, D'Evelyn, 7-5, 6-1; Ziegler/Ziegler, Cheyenne Mountain, def. Amparan/Esteban Vera, Silver Creek, 6-0, 6-2; 4. Moy/Lee, Niwot, def. Cruz/Cruz, Pueblo West, 6-0, 6-2.