BOULDER — Only a freshman last spring, Alexis Bernthal made it all the way to the No. 2 singles finals at the Class 5A state championships.
The most successful player for Fairview's annually contending program in 2018, Bernthal remained as the Knights' lone surviving player during the state tournament's final day. Only she wasn't alone, not really.
Bernthal's most vivid memories from the final day of her improbable freshman run weren't snapshots of her best plays. She doesn't dwell on the fact that she came up one win short of a state title, either. What Bernthal remembers most is the large number of her teammates that stuck around after being eliminated — shaking off the natural instinct to pack up, go home and call it a season - and supported her while she took home the silver medal.
Frankly, Bernthal wouldn't have made it as far as she did without her teammates cheering her on from the stands, from the sidelines and from behind the fences at Gates Tennis Center. It left a lasting impression on the young Knights player and has inspired her to return the favor by becoming that encouraging voice for the Knights as she gets older and grows into a leadership role with the team.
"That had an enormous effect on me," Bernthal said. "They were all so good to me, especially the seniors. The Fairview team is such a good community of girls so I want to keep that going, obviously. As I progress through high school, I really want to build that up more and more."
The returning No. 2 singles runner-up isn't alone in the endeavor to become a leader and a steadying force for the Knights in 2019.
Knights senior Sophie Pearson missed out on this past state tournament after qualifying for state as a sophomore in 2017. Thus far this spring, she has edged Bernthal for the No. 1 singles spot throughout several back-and-forth challenge matches early in the season.
Pearson and Bernthal intend to share the load in assuming the mantle of leadership.
"Sophie is obviously a really good player and I think I'm playing better than last year, too, and I think we both should be good leaders for the team this year," Bernthal said. "My goal for this year is to be a better teammate. So no matter how we play this year, we really want to focus on being the best teammates possible."
The Knights, who placed fifth at state last season, have faced their share of obstacles already.
Natalie Stone, last year's No. 1 singles player who reached the state semifinals as a freshman, did not return to the team. Unfavorable weather conditions have also limited the Knights' practice and match time, and basically wiped out the season's first two weeks of competition. In their first match of the new campaign last week, the Knights fell 4-3 to defending 4A state champion Niwot.
But with over 100 girls signing up for girls tennis at Fairview this season, the program that won the 5A team title in 2016 is still thriving.
"I think we still have a pretty solid lineup," Pearson said. "Alexis is definitely stepping up and I'm trying to, as well. Lilian (Ma), our three singles player, she's doing a great job of stepping into a brand new spot and she's working really hard at that. We have a bunch of new girls and I think we're doing pretty well so far."
Going into her 15th year as head coach at Fairview, Susan Stensrud returns four players with state tournament experience this season. The Knights also have a number of underclassmen who they expect to contribute immediately.
Even with a typically strong Fairview team, this season's Knights team likely will go only as far as Pearson and Bernthal take them.
"I was a little bit on the fence about coaching this year but I love those two girls so much that I had to stick around," Stensrud said. "Sophie was hurt her sophomore year and still got to the quarterfinals at state, which was amazing, and she's all about the team and all about being the best person she can be. Alexis is the same way. She's a tough kid and she wants to be the best, so she's got that internal drive but it's never at the expense of others.
"I love both of them and I'm so glad to have them here to lead our team."