BOULDER — There is an old adage in tennis that claims the hardest thing to do is close out the match.
Throw in a little pressure, i.e. a state berth, and it becomes that much harder.
Niwot coach Aimee Keronen's team has been there and done that in the past, but a younger group of Cougars had only experienced it once. Maybe that was enough on Thursday in the championship round of the Class 4A Region 5 tournament at the CU Tennis Complex.
The Cougars swept the singles positions, with No. 1 player Julia Pentz rallying for three set victory over Standley Lake's Rachel Nguyen 3-6, 6-3, 6-0 . The sophomore will be among a lofty list of favorites to claim the crown in Class 4A next weekend at Pueblo's City Park and the state championships.
"I was just really tight at the end and she was still fighting for it and she wasn't just going to give it to me," said Pentz, who played the longest game of a lopsided third set in the final game. "I had to fight for every point, it was very stressful."
It was just the sort of match Pentz needed going into the state tournament. A grueling three-set mental test that forced her to upgrade every part of her well-rounded game.
"I can definitely grow from some things that I did that weren't so great," she said. "I'll live and learn and hopefully apply that to state and do my best down there."
Pentz will be joined in Pueblo by Taylor Thulson (No. 2 singles) and Rachel Drake (No. 3), both of whom rolled to straight set wins in the finals.
Thulson, who finished third at state last season, only dropped six games in three matches and heads to state with loads of confidence.
"My confidence level going in is pretty good. I was nervous freshman year, but now that I have that experience, I'm excited to be heading back and want to do better than I did last year," Thulson said. "I won't feel scared or intimidated, I'll just go out there and do my best."
Niwot will send just one doubles team to Pueblo. The No. 1 tandem of Emma Lerner and Amanda DuQuette lost in the title match to Holy Family's Lindsey Bovine and Paige Giltner in straight sets and then had to face a playback against Dawson School to cement their spot.
They did, beating Skylar Schutter and Isabelle Shehan 6-3, 6-3.
Perhaps the biggest win of the day was in a third-place match at No. 2 doubles. Needing a win to overtake Holy Family for the regional crown, the team of Erin O'Neill and Jewel Ng rallied from a 5-1 third set deficit to beat Longmont's Eva D'Epagnier and Madi Jayne 4-6, 7-5, 7-5.
Knowing that her team didn't have a chance to get a playback match to go to state, Keronen — who won the tight team race 73-72 over the Tigers — didn't shy away from letting her girls know the importance of the match.
"There was no hesitation, we were letting them know because in their minds they knew they couldn't get the state ticket, so why does it matter," Keronen said. "I wanted to let them know so that they could win the title for our whole team.
"It obviously helped. I feel bad that they are not going to state, but they should be proud of what they did."
Holy Family swept the four double positions and made it look easy. The Tigers dropped just one set along the way. Coach Brittany Storgaard's team will send five positions to state, including No. 3 singles player Elle Beyer. Beyer lost to Drake in the finals and earned her spot with a tough playback win over Standley Lake's Paulina Nguyen 6-4, 6-3.
Also going to state from the BoCo region are Peak to Peak's Trini Somasundaram (No. 2 singles), Dawson No. 2 doubles team of Maddie Fagundo and Ellie Beeck, Longmont's No. 3 team of Kyra Foote and Melanie Reeves as well as the No. 4 doubles team from Dawson Live Cramer and Nicole Hilton.
Fairview dominates in 5A
In the Class 5A regional at Fairview, the host Knights completed the sweep, winning all seven positions without dropping a set along the way.
Freshman No. 1 singles player Seraphin Castelino rolled in the title match, beating Regis' Mikki Erickson 6-1, 6-0 in the final.
Senior Natalie Munson, three times a state runner-up, earned a return trip at No. 2 singles with a 6-3, 6-3 win over Regis' Syler Mydler.
The Class 5A tournament will start Thursday morning and run through Saturday at the Gates Tennis Center in Denver.
CLASS 4A REGION 5
At South Boulder Tennis Complex
Team scores — Niwot 73, Holy Family 72, Peak to Peak 38, Dawson School 36, Longmont 27, Standley Lake 25, Silver Creek 19, Centaurus 5, Berthoud 4, Erie 2, Skyview 2, Skyline 1, Frederick 0.
No. 1 singles — Julia Pentz, Niwot def. Rachel Nguyen, Standley Lake, 3-6, 6-0, 6-0.
No. 2 singles — Taylor Thulson, Niwot def. Trini Somasundaram, Peak to Peak, 6-2, 6-0.
No. 3 singles — Rachel Drake, Niwot def. Elly Beyer, Holy Family, 6-1, 6-2.
No. 1 doubles — Lindsey Bovine/Paige Giltner, Holy Family def. Emma Lerner/Amanda DuQuette, Niwot, 6-1, 6-0.
No. 2 doubles — Sophie Mosko/Ciara Donovan, Holy Family def. Maddie Fagundo/Ellie Beeck, Dawson, 6-1, 6-3.
No. 3 doubles — Brianna Bartlett/An Tran Holy Family def. Kyra Foote/Melanie Reeves, Longmont, 6-2, 6-3.
No. 4 doubles — Jaelyn Larson/Maren Steiner, Holy Family def. Liv Cramer/Nicole Hilton, Dawson, 6-2, 6-4.
No. 1 singles — Trisha Somasundaram, Peak to Peak def. Elsa Erickson, Silver Creek, 6-1, 6-3.
No. 2 singles — Julia Giltner, Holy Family def. Maggie Berry, Dawson, 6-0, 6-3.
No. 3 singles — Paulina Nguyen, Standley Lake def. Anjali Gill, Peak to Peak, 6-4, 4-6, 6-3.
No. 1 doubles — Skylar Schutter/Isabelle Shehan, Dawson def. Taryn Walker/Ripley Hansen, Standley Lake, 6-4, 6-2.
No. 2 doubles — Erin O'Neill/Jewel Ng, Niwot def. Eva D'Epagnier/Madi Jayne, Longmont, 4-6, 7-5, 7-5.
No. 3 doubles — Katie Ziel/Sophie Vandenburge, Niwot def. Phoebe Norman/Janny Valadez, Silver Creek, 5-7, 6-0, 6-1.
No. 4 doubles — Tanna Carson/Natalie Garcia, Longmont def. Sreeya Kairamkunda/Yui Ishikawa, Niwot, 6-4, 7-5.
No. 3 singles — Beyer, Holy Family def. P. Nguyen, Standley Lake, 6-4, 6-3.
No. 1 doubles — Lerner/DuQuette, Niwot def. Schutter/Shehan, Dawson, 6-3, 6-3.
No. 4 doubles — Cramer/Hilton, Dawson def. Carson/Garcia, Longmont, 4-6, 7-6 (4), 6-3.