PUEBLO – Above all other matches at the Class 4A girls tennis state championships, a rematch between champions on a collision course promised to be the main event.
Kent Denver’s Josie Schaffer won 4A’s most prestigious title in 2016 and again in 2017, and was unbeaten in state tournament play before she was unseated by Niwot’s Lucy Lu last year. Schaffer, now a senior fighting for one more shot at glory, and Lu, suddenly Colorado’s most hunted player as a sophomore defending champion, returned to the championship match on Saturday at Pueblo City Park.
Much in the way Schaffer began writing her own legacy, Lu triumphed, 7-5, 6-1, to win her second title in as many high school seasons. For the only two champions of the previous three seasons to duel a fourth and final time was a fitting finale for the 2019 campaign.
“I’ve definitely been anticipating, waiting for this match,” Lu said. “Every single match I’ve played this season has been working up to this one. There was definitely more pressure this time and I wasn’t necessarily expecting myself to do it, but it was my goal to win again. I definitely embraced the pressure because it’s an honor to have it, and it feels great to get it done.”
Lu admitted what was visibly clear to everyone watching early on in Saturday’s state final: she was nervous. But the sophomore kept her serve and gradually found her footing until an opportunity to turn the tide appeared.
Knotted at 5-5, Lu got the first and only break of the first set and held to win it, 7-5. She then broke to open the second set and began to pull away before Schaffer, who has battled a lingering wrist injury, had to call an injury timeout with Lu up 3-0 in the second set. Lu ended up winning by a similar final score to last year’s 7-6, 6-2 finals victory.
Niwot’s Tehnley White had an excellent tournament as well, and in her own unique way. Making the difficult jump from No. 1 doubles to No. 2 singles this spring, White capped her junior season off by placing third in the state.
“I just wanted to come here and have fun, and I didn’t have super-high expectations because I had never played singles before this season,” White said. “I’m not sure how it happened but I’m really proud of myself for getting third.”
The Cougars, who ended Cheyenne Mountain’s nine year streak by winning the team title last year, also finished runners-up at No. 1 doubles, won state titles at Nos. 2 and 3 doubles, and placed third at No. 4 doubles. It still wasn’t enough to hold off Cheyenne Mountain for a second straight year, as the Indians (76) edged the Cougars (71) by five points in the team competition.
“It’s frustrating to lose by such a small margin,” Niwot head coach Aimee Keronen said. “When you win at number one singles and you feel like the girls did everything they needed to, and it’s still not good enough, it’s pretty hard to take. Things sure do change once you taste that victory because second used to be great. But I’m super proud of the girls and most of them are coming back so we’ll be ready to try again.”