NIWOT — The Niwot tennis program has staked its claim among the elite, not only in the region, but statewide.
That's why when the Cougars fell out of the top five last season at Pueblo at the Class 4A state tournament, it caught a few people off guard.
The Cougars are back and feel like they have some unfinished business to take care of in 2018. The roster is deep, experienced and talented from top — with the addition of nationally ranked freshman Lucy Lu — to bottom.
"On paper we will be right there," said Cougars coach Aimee Keronen, who will find out a lot about her team in the first few weeks of the season — including a trip to Class 3A runners-up Colorado Academy on Tuesday.
"With our singles and now with everybody having to move down a notch in doubles, we are pretty loaded. And when you add a new No. 1 singles player, it just gives your team a whole new dynamic."
Lu, 14, is the second-ranked freshman in the state of Colorado according to the BABOLAT recruiting lists, where she's also third in the Mountain region and 106th nationally. She is also listed 96th by the USTA for her age group.
At this year's Intermountain Summer Sectional, Lu went from an unseeded position to finish second in the G16 draw. She also won the 2016 G14 Summer Masters that was held in Boulder.
The addition of Lu means that Taylor Thulson, who has been a constant on top of the Cougars ladder for the past several seasons, and Julia Pentz both move down a spot and up their chances of deeper runs at those No. 2 and 3 singles spots drastically move up.
Same thing for junior Rachel Drake, who has been at No. 3 singles for the past two years, as she will likely move to No. 1 doubles.
And while it might appear from the outside to be somewhat of a demotion, everybody is on board with the best interests of the team goal in mind.
"Julia and Taylor were the two most excited people on that team when we found out Lucy was coming to Niwot," said Keronen, who has little trouble naming Thulson and Pentz captains. "I was a little worried about their initial reaction, but both were like, 'Look what this does for our team.'"
The secret right now for Keronen, and just about every other girls tennis coach in the state, is trying to put together the right doubles teams. It varies so much from the boys game, where in girls not only do you have to blend the right games, but more importantly the personalities.
"It's got to happen quickly though," Keronen said. "Because we are going in less than a week."