PUEBLO — It wasn’t the ending in mind, but the Niwot girls tennis team didn’t go all the way to Pueblo just to leave empty-handed. The Cougars had all the potential to do great things, but a stacked No. 1 singles bracket put an end to their streak of No. 1 singles titles at Pueblo City Park.
Lucy Lu had claimed the previous two while the 2020 tournament wasn’t played because of COVID-19. Still, the Cougars wanted to regain that championship feeling they’ve had in previous years whether it be from a single position or an overall team award.
They got just that as Emily Creek battled to a No. 3 singles title, beating Cheyenne Mountain’s Taylor Stadjuhar 7-5, 6-3.
Although the program hasn’t fallen off per se, getting a championship win out of a senior is a key piece of helping the program regain the dominant level it played at prior to the pandemic.
“My freshman year we won as a team, then we had stuff like COVID,” Creek said. “I just really wanted to have a good senior year. A lot of our team had just started tennis so it was more about building this team since a lot of them will be back next year.”
Niwot quickly fell out of contention for the team state title as Mullen pulled away and scored 45 points to wrap up its first state crown since 2006. But every match counted as the team battled for the runner-up trophy and it all came down to the No. 2 singles final between Anna Sallee and Palmer Ridge’s Tessa Rothwell.
The players were evenly matched, and split sets eventually put the remaining eyes in the complex on this key result.
Rothwell took a 5-4 lead in the third set and broke Sallee’s serve to clinch the win and keep the second-place trophy just out of Niwot’s reach.
“At the beginning of the year, if you had told me we’d be top six I would’ve been thrilled,” coach Aimee Keronen said. “The fact that we were just a few points away from second is insane. I’m super proud of these girls. We’re young, a lot of them are coming back next year and we have some good incoming freshmen.”
The Cougars brought a lot of fresh faces into the tournament, most of whom hadn’t seen a state championship. The modified brackets eliminated the playbacks, but Keronen is thrilled with the experience her girls got and what it will mean in the coming years.
“It’ll be exciting next year,” Keronen said. “Now the girls have the energy, they’ve been down here and they get it. They’ll be ready for it.”
The Cougars finished with four semifinalists, one runner-up and one state champion. Silver Creek also claimed a silver medal at the tournament as the No. 3 doubles team of Meredith Emerson and Meghna Ravi advanced to the championship match but lost to Mullen’s Madeline Crites and Aubryanne Leugers.