Girls tennis: Experienced Cougars primed to contend again after rebuilding year

Greg Lindstrom
Niwot junior Erin Mulshine is ready for big things with the Cougars this spring after getting her feet wet at No. 1 singles a year ago.

NIWOT — Niwot tennis player Erin Mulshine dealt with the unfamiliarity of jumping up the Cougars’ ladder from No. 1 doubles to No. 1 singles as a sophomore last season. Unfamiliarity won’t be an issue in 2013.

Mulshine will, however, face the all-to-familiar day-in and day-out challenge of headlining any prep tennis lineup. For the Cougars’ program to rebound after a difficult 2012, Mulshine hopes she can use what she learned as a sophomore to lead the charge.

“This year I have more experience at that certain spot. That gives me more confidence going into the season because I know what to expect more,” Mulshine said. “All-around, we have a more experienced team this year. We’ve all been playing well and we’re determined to do better because last year wasn’t our best year. We’re ready to come back strong.”

The Niwot girls tennis program has finished among the top 10 in the state six of the past seven years. The Cougars, who won the 4A team title in 2008, would like to get back into the top five.

After finishing ninth last year, the Cougars have a new head coach in Aimee Irwin. Longtime former head coach Miikka Keronen also will return to the program as an assistant after leaving the team prior to last season.

Mulshine said the Cougars felt their conditioning was a factor last season. Under Irwin, they are placing a greater emphasis on that aspect of their game.

The Cougars have hired fitness trainer and former professional football player Delvin Hughley to work out the team.

“I don’t want to lose any matches in the third set because we’re not in shape,” said Irwin, who was an assistant last year. “Delvin’s great. He’s gonna kick their butts.”

Mulshine finished in the top eight at the 2012 4A state tournament in her first season playing singles for the Cougars. Hoping to finish higher in 2013, Mulshine will compete in the throwing events for the track and field team as well this spring to get into better shape.

“I’m still focusing on tennis,” said Mulshine, who ran cross country in the fall and trained with the team through the winter. “I think it’ll just help with speed, agility and strength.”

Mulshine said she’s expecting plenty of help from a lineup that has matured in much the same ways she has.

The Cougars lost two seniors from last year’s team and return plenty of young talent, including Maura Derr and Isabelle Stafford, who placed second at No. 4 doubles as freshmen. They feel their goal of qualifying all seven positions for the state tournament is a realistic one since this year’s lineup will be similar yet more experienced.

But with Irwin at the helm, being a returning player won’t count for a whole lot this season.

“The lineup is never going to be set, which I like, because people get content when that happens,” Irwin said. “I want people to continue to push each other. Just because you’re 4 doubles doesn’t mean you’re safe for the year because JV can always push up and so on.”

The Cougars will kick off the season on the road at Valor Christian on Tuesday.

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