PUEBLO — Niwot’s focus on Friday was catching Cheyenne Mountain and placing some doubles pairs in the finals.
On the second day of the Class 4A state tournament, the Cougars weren’t able to do either. But Harrison Lang, Michael Ogez and Spencer Lang are set for a chance to sweep the singles finals.
Starting at 9 a.m., Cougars head coach Miikka Keronen had semifinal matches to coach all across Pueblo City Park. In a demonstration of confidence in Spencer Lang, he left the freshman largely on his own.
Keronen’s judgement proved wise as Lang continued his run through the No. 3 singles bracket with a 6-2, 6-1 win over Carson Smith from Alexander Dawson. Lang was stoic on his own, battling through frustration against the relentless 6-foot-3 junior.
“The game that he had was high and he was hitting consistent shots over and over again,” Lang said. “When I’d hit a good shot, he’d hit in and we’d be back to square one. Though I was leading, it was still frustrating.”
With the Cougars’ attention elsewhere, Lang was forced to fire himself up with the occasional “Let’s go!” or “Come on!”
“When you’re losing, you have to almost trick your mind into thinking it’s a positive and you’re winning,” said Lang, who will face Cheyenne Mountain’s Andrew Venner in today’s finals.
The deeper you play into the state tennis tournament, the harder the matches get. Even if you’re defending No. 1 singles champion Harrison Lang.
In the semifinals, the Cougars junior found himself trailing Aspen’s Bryan Mehall 4-2 in the first set, which he came back to win 6-4.
As if set one wasn’t dramatic enough, Lang fell behind again in the second, this time 5-1. At 3-1, Lang got tied up on a backhand and missed the ball entirely. He knew he had to get it together.
“He can just turn it on and I was going in and out of focus,” Lang said. “I just kept telling myself one point at a time, one game at a time, and it just kind of spiraled into a lot of games.”
Lang stormed back to win 7-5. He’ll face Kent Denver’s David Mitchell today in the finals.
As tough as Lang’s match was, Ogez didn’t even get to take the court Friday. His opponent, Fletcher Kerr from Colorado Academy, withdrew from the match because of illness.
The Cougars still received 10 team points from Ogez’ match. But with 59 teams points, they trail Cheyenne Mountain’s 69 by a near-insurmountable 10 points.
With five finals berths and two third-place matches, the defending-champion Indians have the possibility to score as many as 19 points today. The Cougars could score a maximum of 15.
Considering their current lead over the Cougars and Kent Denver (54 points), the Indians need just six points to lock up the title.
The Cougars’ focus turns to holding off Kent Denver, with whom they have three head-to-head matches, for second place.
With an outside shot at the team title and a tight race with Kent Denver, the Cougars’ doubles matches for third place are far from an afterthought.
“Anything can happen so we’re still optimistic,” said Jesse Jones, who plays No. 3 doubles with his brother Trevor Jones. “We’ve just gotta win all of our matches and hopefully a couple things will go out way.”
No. 4 doubles is the only spot where the Cougars don’t have a match today. Cecil MacGregor and Carter Pentz were eliminated by Colorado Academy in a tough 7-5, 7-6(4) semifinal loss.
As much as they need to win their matches, the Cougars need just as much help from other teams to catch the Indians.
For the Broomfield Eagles, their season ended Friday. But, not without flash.
Eagles No. 1 singles Zach Kusick won his playback quarterfinal match against Pueblo South’s Brendon Bravo, 6-1, 6-0. The Eagles senior then advanced to play the final match of his career against Cheyenne Mountain’s Stephen Moore, who beat him 6-0, 6-0.
Kusick finished the tournament 2-2, with both losses coming against two of the top players — Moore and Kent Denver’s David Mitchell, who narrowly beat Moore.
“They’re both good players and they should be this far in state,” Kusick said. “They’ve earned it and they’re both good. I shouldn’t feel bad at all about losing to them.”
At No. 2 doubles, Joshua Eafanti and Adam Clark lost to Niwot, 6-2, 6-2 in the consolation quarterfinals to end their season. Eagles head coach Doug Kazarosian was proud of his young team’s performance at state.
“For a lot of these guys it was a learning experience, they’ve never been here before,” he said. “I thought we played well, it’s just in a lot of cases we just didn’t have the experience necessary. This is how you gain that.”
Brad Cochi can be reached at email@example.com.