PUEBLO - Niwot is in a position to slay the beast.
After advancing all seven positions into Friday's semifinals, the Cougars pose a legitimate threat to dethrone Cheyenne Mountain as the Class 4A girls tennis champion.
The Indians are a run of winning nine straight team titles as they annually blitz the field each May at Pueblo City Park.
But after the first two rounds of play, they'll enter Friday's semifinals trailing a tough and resilient Niwot squad. The Cougars were the last team other than Cheyenne Mountain win a 4A team title and got off to an ideal start to duplicate the effort of the 2008 championship team.
"I think it was momentum," Niwot coach Aimee Keronen said. "You start with the No. 1 winning, then the No. 2 winning, the No. 3 winning, the rest of the girls feel that energy and want to hold up their end of the bargain."
Entering the tournament, all eyes have been on freshman Lucy Lu. A regular on the national circuit, Lu's first experience at state was a different animal from what she is used to. And although she tried to downplay the nerves, she couldn't help but to be somewhat thrown at what the state tournament had to offer.
"It was a little hectic," Lu said. "I got a little nervous in my first match, but I think I got over it. I'm starting to like it. I like the team environment."
Lu cruised in her first two matches, beating Palmer Ridge's Keelie Bennett and Liberty's Hana Kimmey in straight sets. The Cougars couldn't advance the No. 1 singles position to the semis last year as Taylor Thulson fell to Cheyenne's Morgan Hall in the quarterfinals.
If Lu were to meet Hall, it would be in Saturday's finals. If she can get through Durango's Mavis Edwards - last year's No. 1 singles runner-up - she would see the winner of Hall and Kent Denver's Josie Schaffer.
Schaffer is a two-time defending champion and a familiar face to Lu.
"I don't care who I play, I'm just out here to play my game," Lu said. "If I get to play Josie then I'm trying to get my revenge. So I'm just going to go out and do what I'm supposed to do."
Lu and Schaffer played twice last year with Schaffer winning both.
Thulson and Julia Pentz are the other two singles players to reach the semifinals. Pentz fell in the No. 1 singles quarters as a sophomore but advanced to the semis in No. 2 singles last year. This year, she plays at No. 3 singles while Thulson is in the No. 2 spot.
Longmont also got some representation in the semifinals with Taylor Merz advancing in No. 3 singles. She thought she would get into the quarterfinals, but even surprised herself with a win a to get into Friday's semis.
"I didn't think I would get this far," Merz said. "Going this far, winning that second one, I just put my all into it."
Merz said that she wanted to beat Durango junior Lily Chick with lob shots and the strategy paid off. She traditionally comes up with her strategy as she watches and studies her opponents during warmup.
Merz and all the Niwot players will hit the court Friday morning at 9 a.m. to compete in their semifinal matches.
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Class 4A state tournament
At Pueblo City Park
Team scores — 1. Niwot 21; 2. Cheyenne Mountain 18; 3. Palmer Ridge 9; 4. Valor Christian 8; t5. Kent Denver 7; t5. Mullen 7; t5. Durango 7; 8. Lewis-Palmer 6; 9. Discovery Canyon 5; t10. Air Academy 4; t10. Longmont 4.
Longmont results — No. 1 Singles - Morgan Hall (Cheyenne Mountain) def. Rebecca Pavot 6-0 6-1; No. 2 Singles - Amanda Schlatter (Kent Denver) def. Amber Weston 6-3 4-6 6-1; No. 3 Singles -Taylor Merz 6-0 6-0 def. Annie Manassee (Kent Denver) 6-2 7-5; Merz def. Lily Chick (Durango) 6-0 6-0; No. 1 Doubles - Julia Doyle/Isabel Haifleigh (Kent Denver) def. Eva D'Epagnier/Madi Jayne 6-1 6-1; No. 2 Doubles -Tanna Carson/Felicia Archuleta def. Natalie Patrick/Cora Blowers (Montrose) 6-0 6-2; Lily Sieben/Erin O'Neill (Niwot) def. Carson/Archuleta 3-6 6-3 6-2.; No. 3 Doubles - Aliison Westbrook/Rebecca Emme (Loveland) def. Maya Givens/Anna McConahy 5-7 6-3 6-3; No. 4 Doubles - Karinne Bratkowsky/Ria Paradkar (Discovery Canyon) def. Jesse Bartel/Kallie Westmoreland 6-2 7-6.
Niwot results — No. 1 Singles - Lucy Lu def. Keelie Bennett (Palmer Ridge) 6-2 6-1; Lu def. Hana Kimmey (Liberty) 6-1 6-1; No. 2 Singles - Taylor Thulson def. Hanna Cropper (Greeley West) 6-1 6-1; Thulson def. Emma Hackett (Durango) 6-1 6-3; No. 3 Singles - Julia Pentz def. Paddison Lowe (Discovery Canyon) 6-1 6-0; Pentz def. Mackie Tate Tygart (Air Academy) 6-1 6-0; No. 1 Doubles - Rachel Drake/Tehnley White def. Connie Sun/Anna Griffin (Coronado) 6-4 6-0; Drake/ White def. Jordan Mertens/Danielle Sobraske (Thompson Valley) 6-2 6-3; No. 2 Doubles - Lily Sieben/Erin O'Neill def. Willa Sobel/Remi Peck (Kent Denver) 6-3 6-0; Sieben/O'Neill def. Tanna Carson/Felicia Archuleta (Longmont) 3-6 6-3 6-2; No. 3 Doubles - Catherine Xiao/Maedee Trank def. Aubrey Hermreck/Allsion Lancaster (Canon City) 6-2 6-0; Xiao/Maedee def. Laura Clark/Mira Joyner (Durango) 6-2 6-1; No. 4 Doubles - Emily Creek/Annie Neinritz def. Sydney Purdam/Emma Ackerman (Lewis-Palmer) 6-0 6-0; Creek/Neinritz def. Alisa Sautter/Tara Jefferies (Loveland) 6-2 6-3.