NIWOT — If having young talent is a measure of future success, the Niwot High girls tennis team might be the richest team in that category in Colorado prep tennis.
It’s not often that the best player on one of the best teams in the state is also the team’s youngest player, either. But that’s the situation Niwot is in this season, and the Cougars are more than OK with it.
For a perennial title contending Niwot squad that this season plays four seniors, having freshman Julia Pentz in the top spot at No. 1 singles is a bit unusual. Pentz, however, isn’t a rookie in terms of experience and she’s already thriving while facing every other team’s ace.
“I’ve had a lot of coaches and I’ve been playing a lot,” Pentz said. “It’s just dedication that I’ve put into it like playing with my brother or hitting serves on my free time, playing in tournaments, stuff like that. I just wanted to get a lot of experience before coming in.”
Julia’s older brother Carter Pentz was a senior doubles player for the Niwot boys team this past season. Not counting sibling rivalry matches, Julia Pentz has a 9-1 record in her freshman campaign and appears to be destined for a top-two finish at regionals and a 4A state tournament berth.
While doing so, Pentz hasn’t exactly had an easy go of it.
By nature of her No. 1 singles ladder spot, Niwot’s freshman ace routinely faces players who are two or three years older than she is. Her opponents’ age isn’t a major concern for Pentz, only that she keeps improving and preparing for her first shot at the state tournament.
“I play juniors and seniors, mostly,” Pentz said. “I just go out there and play with nothing to lose. If they’re a senior or a freshman, I just go out there and try to beat them. The main thing I focus on in every match is to get better and to play my best.”
In fact, the only two sets Pentz has lost this season were to 5A Fairview High freshman Amber Shen, who defeated Pentz 6-0, 6-1 on March 18. With a rash of incoming freshmen talent in the area, Pentz is one of four freshmen that start in the Niwot High varsity lineup.
Right behind Pentz at No. 2 singles, Niwot freshman Taylor Thulson is also 9-1 in her first season. Sophia Williams is 7-3 at No. 3 doubles and fellow rookie Katie Ziel is 8-1 at No. 4 doubles.
“I don’t know where they’re coming from,” Cougars coach Aimee Irwin said. “We’re pretty loaded with freshmen and we have a good group of seniors. Having your top two players be freshmen is a coach’s dream. For these girls, tennis is more their life. They play year-round and they play lots of tournaments so they aren’t really freshmen in tennis terms.”
Niwot finished fourth in 4A last season without a marquee player at No. 1 or No. 2 singles, where they highest points are scored. In Irwin’s estimation, Niwot may not have to wait too long to see one or both of its top players in the mix for an individual state title, which would also mean a significant bump in team points for the Cougars.
“Taylor at number two has a great shot to be a state champion this year,” Irwin said. “The only loss she has in 4A is a three-set tight match to the Cheyenne Mountain girl who won state last year at that spot so she’s got great potential. Her and Julia are there to compete now. I expect both of them to be in the top four at state. That’s my goal for both of them.”
Niwot will play at the 4A Region 5 tournament on April 29-30. Then Irwin and the Cougars will get to see how many of their freshmen will make their state tournament debuts.
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