PUEBLO - A day that started with so much promise ended with a feeling of disappointment. For now, at least.
The Niwot boys tennis team came away with a second-place finish as a team and planted seeds for a strong 2019 season in the process.
The Cougars were runners-up to Colorado Academy, which won six of seven individual championships during Saturday's finals. Five of those wins came against Niwot. The lone win for the Cougars on the day came in No. 1 singles where Neil Wilcox beat Kent Denver's Sam Nassif 6-4, 6-1 to take third place.
"It was pretty big," Wilcox said. "I was disappointed that I lost to Richter (Jordaan of CA) and couldn't get first or second. But it was important that I won that match."
The five losses in the finals stung, there was little doubt about that. But when the Cougars are able to take some time to process the way the season played out, they'll find that success comes in all shapes and sizes.
"I feel like it's rough when you don't win," coach Mikka Keronen said. "But next week this will feel really good. We've done this many times. Second is good. Our guys came to win today. We played well, it just didn't happen."
And in turn, it became a learning experience. Wilcox said earlier in the week that the difference in this year's team and last year's team was confidence. The Cougars were confident in their ability to go to Pueblo City Park and win.
Colorado Academy turned out to be a challenge too formidable to overcome. With each match that ended in favor of the Mustangs, the Niwot players exited the court with frustration and sadness written all over their faces. As is the case with any loss, they can draw on what happened this season to translate it into hopefull success next season.
"Losing is hard. They hate losing," Keronen said. "I think they learned that there were a few days where if we had worked a little harder, things would have been different. We work hard but guys could've shown up 30 minutes before practice some days and hit balls. We need to put emphasis on things like that because maybe that was the difference."
The Cougars were donned in pink shirts for Saturday's finals as a sign of team unity. Gina Black, the mother of Riley Black has battled breast cancer since last spring. With October serving as breast cancer awareness month, the team banded together to show Black and his family support in the battle and it was a gesture that the senior won't forget.
"I think it just shows the strength and determination that our team has about being good teammates," Black said. "It's not just 11 individual players out there. It's one team. It was great to see them rallying around a good cause and being good teammates, good friends and good people."
Black fell to Colorado Academy's Clark Steinhauser 6-2, 6-0 in the No. 2 singles final. But even as the team received its runner-up trophy and stood on the podium as the second-best team of the weekend, there was no group of people he'd rather have standing by his side.
"At the end of the day, I'd rather finish second with a great team than in first with a team full of guys who don't like each other," Black said.
And there was no doubt about the respect and love the Cougars have for each other. That is a culture that Keronen and his guys will look to maintain in the future. The goal is to become a first-place team as well as a first-class team.
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Class 4A state championship
At Pueblo City Park
Team scores — Colorado Academy 95, Niwot 71, Cheyenne Mountain 45, Kent Denver 43, Mullen 24, Discovery Canyon 16, Aspen 6, D'Evelyn 5, Littleton 4, Dawson School 4, Pueblo West 3, Golden 2, Thompson Valley 2, Fountain Valley 2, Steamboat Springs 2, Silver Creek 1, Longmont 1, Coronado 1, Air Academy 1.
Singles — 1. Jordaan, Colorado Academy, def. Lorenz, Discovery Canyon, 6-1, 75; 2. Steinhauser, Colorado Academy, def. Black, Niwot, 6-2, 6-0; 3. Thomas, Colorado Academy, def. Bicknell, Niwot, 6-3, 6-3.
Doubles — 1. Aguirre/Ela, Colorado Academy, def. Keronen/Saini, Niwot, 6-3, 6-4; 2. Dietrich/Smart, Colorado Academy, def. Lavrouk/Mulshine, Niwot, 7-6, 6-2; 3. Coors/Klutznick, Kent Denver, def. Liu/Brinker, Colorado Academy, 6-3, 7-6, 6-3; 4. Gaghen/Miller, Colorado Academy, def. Moy/Lee, Niwot, 6-4, 7-6.
Singles — 1. Wilcox, Niwot, def. Nassil, Kent Denver, 6-4, 6-1.