NIWOT — Julia Pentz and Taylor Thulson are as competitive as they come and each is expecting big things from herself and from the other this tennis season.
Leading the Niwot girls to a ninth-place finish at state last season, Pentz played No. 1 singles and Thulson played No. 2 singles. Both were freshmen. Both reached the Class 4A state semifinals.
For the Cougars' top two tennis players, improving on stellar freshman seasons means both have a chance to be playing for a state title in May.
"Taylor and I, we're just both looking to do better at state because we've both worked really hard in the offseason," Pentz said. "We both have set high goals. Everyone at state is really good so we are really focused on setting ourselves up to play our best at state."
The reigning Longmont Times-Call Player of the Year, Pentz finished fifth at No. 1 singles last season. She fell to St. Mary's Alex Weil in the semifinals and lost to Pueblo West's Sara Schoenbeck in the consolation semifinals. Weil went on to place second and Schoenbeck took third.
Also at the state tournament in Pueblo, Thulson lost to eventual No. 2 singles state champion Caroline Kawula in the semifinals and defeated Colorado Academy's Savannah Mease in the third-place match.
Even winning a spot on the state podium wasn't enough for either of the competitive duo.
"I'm really competitive so I was a little disappointed," Pentz said. "I really want to at least finish in the top four this year."
Again, Pentz and Thulson are competitive, even with each other.
On Thursday, they faced on another in a challenge match to decide who would be the No. 1 singles player this season. The match was suspended at 2-2 in the third set because of darkness.
"We both have high expectations," Thulson said. "No matter who plays No. 1 and who plays No. 2, we're both working really hard to do the best we can to help our team."
Cougars head coach Aimee Keronen was thrilled at the result, or lack thereof.
"They're battling right now for the top spot," Keronen said. "They're both very competitive and I love having fighters on the team. They're fighters."
Following in Pentz and Thulson's trend of freshman success, ninth-grader Rachel Drake has locked up the No. 3 singles spot and will round out the Cougars' top three this season. While the youthful lineup bodes well for Niwot's future, the Cougars top three expect to be a threat to compete for a title in the present.
"It's great that we have a young team," Thulson said. "Some people might not take us really seriously because we're just sophomores and freshmen but I think that's an advantage for us."