BOULDER — Singles tennis is and entirely different ballgame from the doubles version of the sport.
Without a teammate on the court to cover for mistakes and "it's all good" them away when they are made, mental fortitude often ends up being the determining factor in whether or not a high school player can successfully make the transition from pairs to the solo division.
After placing fourth together at No. 1 doubles at last season's Class 4A state tournament, Niwot's Rachel Drake and Tehnley White are playing on their own in the singles brackets this spring. They're facing new challenges separately from one another but at least for Drake, this different ballgame is one she played as a freshman and a sophomore.
She's familiar with the internal mental struggle that is singles tennis and Drake still expects that to be the most difficult aspect of her bid to placing as a solo player at the end of the 2019 campaign. On Wednesday, however, Drake overcame any inner doubts that bubbled up in order to win 7-5, 6-1 over Fairview's No. 3 singles player Lilian Ma and help the defending 4A state champion Cougars win 4-3 against a talented Knights squad that placed fifth in 5A last spring.
"I tend to start off a little tight and I have a lot of mental blocks to push through," Drake, who is 2-1 early in the season, said. "If I miss a serve, there's just something in my head that stops my shoulder from rotating the right way and it can be hard to me to start fresh, and to trust that I have the ability to hit a good serve in. But once I start hitting my shots, my confidence goes up and I just play the way I want to play."
In Wednesday's battle of powerhouse programs from different classifications, White was less fortunate at No. 2 singles. The Cougars junior ran up against Knights sophomore Alexis Bernthal, who finished runner-up at No. 2 singles at last year's 5A state championships. Bernthal won 6-1, 6-1 to claim her first win of the spring.
Because of poor weather conditions, in fact, Wednesday's dual was Fairview's first official competition of the season.
Facing Lucy Lu, the reigning 4A No. 1 singles champion, was a tough draw from Fairview senior Sophie Pearson. Lu, who did not lose a single set as a freshman at last year's state championships, won Wednesday's headliner, 6-0, 6-1.
The teams split four close doubles matches, with Niwot winning at No. 2 and No. 3 to claim the four-match majority and a quality win in a tough early test for both teams.
"It's weird that we're playing a bunch of tough 5A teams but it's good because it gets us way more ready for state," Drake said. "We definitely lost some important seniors last season but our goal is to come back and at least place. Last year, it was really exciting to win and watching us play these 5A teams really shows us that we have a chance and maybe get our title back."
On the other side of things, watching her team fall to a defending state champion team that returned six state champions from its title-winning lineup wasn't overly troubling for Fairview head coach Susan Stensrud. She was just happy that her girls finally got a chance to kick off the season and that they played well.
"It was our first match and most of these girls hadn't really played together before, so the loss to a good team like Niwot was fine," Stensrud said. "All the girls played great so I was pleased."
Niwot 4, Fairview 3
At Fairview High School
Singles — 1. Lucy Lu, Niwot, def. Sophie Pearson, 6-0, 6-1; 2. Alexis Bernthal, Fairview, def. Tehnley White, Niwot, 6-1, 6-1; 3. Rachel Drake, Niwot, def. Lilian Ma, Fairview, 7-5, 6-1.
Doubles — 1. Ma/Elowski, Fairview, def. Heinritz/Xiao, Niwot, 6-3, 6-4; 2. Trank-Greene/Sieben, Niwot, def. Swanson/Bartels, Fairview, 6-4, 6-3; 3. Lang/Sallee, Niwot, def. Martinson/Pudalov, Fairview, 6-1, 6-1; 4. Grayson/Hao, Fairview, def. O'Rourke/Budagunta, Niwot, 6-3, 6-4.