LONGMONT — Even for a team that has routinely dominated at the regional level for the better part of a decade, the Niwot girls tennis team took its annual pre-state performance to a new level on Friday.
Hosting the Class 4A Region 5 tournament at Longmont Recreation Center, the Cougars swept the seven championship matches. That is hardly unusual. In doing so this year, however, the Cougars won all but 18 of 102 games played on the rain-delayed day on which the players played an entire condensed tournament beginning at 7 a.m.
With the top two players at each position qualifying for the 4A state championship in Pueblo next week, the Cougars are safely sending their entire lineup to compete for a title.
"I feel like somehow we seemed a little stronger this year at regionals," Cougars head coach Aimee Keronen said. "Sometimes we get a little chokey and nervous because it's a big tournament. But this year, I was just really impressed by how we came out stronger than usual."
Niwot's Taylor Thulson had the closest match of the seven finals at No. 2 singles, winning 7-5, 6-3 against an inspired Amber Weston from Longmont. Irwin said she was also impressed by her No. 2 doubles pair of Erin O'Neil and Lily Sieben, who won 6-0, 6-0 against a Longmont pair that gave them a really tough match when the teams met up during the regular season.
The Cougars have been working with a mental coach this season, according to Keronen, and Cougars No. 1 doubles players Tehnley White and Rachel Drake emphasized their improved mental toughness as the primary difference in their 6-2, 6-0 win over Longmont's Eva D'Epagnier and Madison Jayne in the regional title match.
"It was a long day but I thought we probably played the best tennis of our season," Drake said. "We were really positive and we just knew what we had to do. We ended up pretty well and we're going into state with the mindset that we know we can do really well and know that we're as good as we think we are."
Having been partners just for this spring, White said the pair's ability to develop the ever-important rapport between doubles players paid off for them in Friday's finals match.
"I really liked how we played together and how we settled down against Longmont," White said. "We started out not really hitting some of our returns amazing but we were able to get together, regroup and go out and play our best."
The Cougars placing first, which they also did in the team scoring, was the main theme of Friday. After that, Longmont finishing runner-up was a close second.
The Trojans placed second at all seven lineup spots and took second in the team scoring. After sending a full team to state last year, trying to back it up in 2018 was the Trojans' focus in 2018.
"We took a full lineup to state last year and to have everybody go back again just proves that we're a good team," Trojans head coach Michael Merz said. "We think we can do some damage. We have some talented young players and we have a few more matches to play so hopefully we can take everybody down to Pueblo again this year."
Players who did not face the runner-up finisher during bracket play have the right to challenge that player for their berth into the state tournament. Three play-back matches will be played on Saturday morning. Longmont's Rebecca Pavot will play Silver Creek's Jenna Nielson at No. 1 singles, Weston will play Northridge's Mackenzie Bush at No. 2 singles, and Longmont's Anna McConahy and Maya Givens will play Skyline's Kayla Dominguez and Ashley Kastler at No. 3 doubles.
4A Region 5 Tournament
At Longmont Recreation Center
Team scores — Niwot 84, Longmont 56, Northridge 25, Silver Creek 22, Skyline 6, Centaurus 3.
Singles — 1. Lucy Lu, Niwot, def. Rebecca Pavot, Longmont, 6-0, 6-0; 2. Taylor Thulson, Niwot, def. Amber Weston, Longmont, 7-5, 6-3; 3. Julia Pentz, Niwot, def. Taylor Merz, Longmont, 6-0, 6-1.
Doubles — 1. Tehnley White/Rachel Drake, Niwot. def. Eva D'Epagnier/Madison Jayne, Longmont, 6-2, 6-0; 2. Erin O'Neil/Lily Sieben, Niwot, def. Tanna Carson/Felicia Archuleta, Longmont, 6-0, 6-0; 3. Maedee Trank-Greene/Cathrine Xiao, Niwot, def. Anna McConahy/Maya Givens, 6-0, 6-3; 4. Annie Heinritz/Emily Creek, Niwot, def. Kallie Westmoreland/Jesse Bartel, Longmont, 6-1, 6-3.