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Niwot sophomore Erin Mulshine has been named the Times-Call Girls Tennis Player of the Year.
Niwot sophomore Erin Mulshine has been named the Times-Call Girls Tennis Player of the Year.

NIWOT — When Erin Mulshine thought about who she considered to be the 16 best singles players in Colorado at the beginning of the season, she didn’t count herself among them.

Turns out Mulshine, who didn’t think she was ready for the big stage as a sophomore, probably should have. She’s the Times-Call Girls Tennis Player of the Year.

“It was kind of surreal because at the beginning of the season, I didn’t think I would even make it to state,” Mulshine said. “Just to make it was a big task. I didn’t think there was any way I would move on past the first round and I did that. Hard work through the season paid off.”

Playing No. 1 singles for the Niwot Cougars, Mulshine not only qualified for the 4A state tournament, but won her first match against Skyline’s Lisa Hug. She was just one of three sophomores in her division at state.

The Cougars returned just three players from last year’s varsity squad, including Mulshine, who played No. 1 doubles as a freshman in 2011. In a down year for the powerhouse Cougars program, Mulshine shouldered the bulk of the responsibility by making the big jump up to the top spot.

“I had to step up, especially as the No. 1 singles player, because we had eight people who had never been on varsity before,” Mulshine said. “We kind of had to show them how everything works. It was difficult because you’re thrown into the leadership role but it was fun.”

After finishing fifth as a team last season, the Cougars qualified seven players for this year’s state tournament. None of them had been to state before. Mulshine led the youth movement to a ninth-place finish.

“It was my first time at state. Actually, it was everyone’s first time at state,” Mulshine said. “It was fun for the team. The tennis was a lot different because the level is so much higher than what you see during the season.”

In the opinion of Aimee Irwin, who will become the Cougars’ third head coach in three years when next season begins, Mulshine’s competitive edge is her greatest strength.

“She’s young, but she’s a fighter and a competitor,” Irwin, a 2012 assistant, said. “That’s the fun part of coaching a kid like that because she’s never going to give up no matter how frustrated she gets. We’re excited for next year for her.

“State, to me, is all mental. Everybody had to qualify, everybody’s good. It’s how you handle it mentally. She just had that mindset that she was gonna win that match and to grind it out 7-6 in the third set against a really solid player was just huge for her.”

Mulshine likes to grind out matches. She played four matches that lasted more than three hours this season, including a four-hour-long, 4-6, 6-3, 7-6(5) win over Hug at state.

Irwin said to make it to the final eight at the state tournament was huge for Mulshine’s confidence moving forward.

“She’s only gonna get better and she’s very athletic,” Irwin said. “Athletic kids seem to prosper quicker. You can have all the tools in the world, but if you don’t have the athleticism to run down balls and endurance, it makes a difference. With that on her side, she just gonna keep getting better and better.”

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