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Boys tennis: Zero to hero, Boulder’s turnaround continues to stir

Notes from the area midway through season

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A simmering tennis program at Boulder, just two years removed from a winless season, is proving to be one of the best teams in the area for a second straight year.

Coming into the week, the Panthers had won their first seven duals of the season while finishing second only to 2020 Class 5A state third-place Valor Christian at their own 12-team tournament last month.

The dominant start is two years after Nick Salazar took over and the team followed with an 0-fer season in dual matches.

The coach, still undeterred after that, led a program change. The transformation was unusually quick.

“I think it’s just the small reminders,” Salazar said when asked about the seemingly overnight turnaround. “Have fun, self improvement, and focus on the bigger goal, which to us is qualifying every single line for state.”

In the pandemic season last fall, the Panthers were among the better stories in the sport, going from winless to their first winning season since 2017. They finished 6-1 in dual matches while qualifying for state at four positions.

And now in 2021, it may look even more promising. Leading the way are freshman Andre Parham and sophomore Jackson Lewis in the top two singles spots, chased by senior Mike Nold, who is 7-1 per MaxPreps, at No. 3.

The doubles, meanwhile, who have been key to dual win after dual win so far this fall, have combined to go 43-6 in the matches recorded on MaxPreps.

This week, the Panthers close out dual matches as they travel to 6-1 Monarch Tuesday, then get their annual rivalry match with area power Fairview Friday.

The Front Range League championship tournament, which has been won by the Knights for the past 13 years, follows Sept. 28.

“From now until state, I only want them to think about the present,” Salazar said. “Obviously we want to get all these guys to state, but I want them to think of the present, not the future or past.”

For all tennis programs, regionals run Oct. 6-9. State tournaments are Oct. 14-16 with 5A at the Gates Tennis Center in Denver and 4A at Pueblo City Park.

High five for Centaurus

The Warriors are riding a hot streak in one-versus-one matches. Their win streak of five is the longest recorded in MaxPreps since before 2012.

Along with that, Julie Daniel’s crew also had a nice tournament showing late last week. Among eight teams, including Grand Junction, Valor Christian and Dakota Ridge, Centaurus tied for third at the Ralston Valley Invite, sending three positions into the semifinals.

Up top for Centaurus, Carter Hunter-Crump is listed at 7-2 this season at No. 1 singles per MaxPreps.

Fairview a bit of an unknown

The Knights, led by Chad Tsuda before he stepped down at the conclusion of last year, are now directed by former Boulder coach Doug Kazarosian.

Under Tsuda, Fairview won the Front Range League tournament for 13 straight years and won the 5A state title in 2017.

This season, Fairview has dual wins over Fort Collins and Poudre and losses to Denver East and Fossil Ridge.

Raptors conquer Windsor Invite field

The Raptors won the eight-team tournament going away.

This fall, Silver Creek has won four of its six dual matches. Among the interesting storylines leading the way, senior Luke Graboski, who’d been a doubles player before this year, is listed at 6-1 in No. 3 singles matches on MaxPreps.

Niwot impressing

The Cougars, fresh off winning the 4A championship, have continued to prove dominant in the wake of the graduating star player Neil Wilcox.

To this point, the defending champs have won all four of their dual matches listed on MaxPreps.

Luke Weber, who won state at No. 3 singles, is now their ace. LiChen Liao is 2, and Alan Wilcox, Neil’s brother, is 3.

Other notes

–        Monarch’s No. 2 and 3 players Luke Jensen and Callum Conaghan have combined to go 22-1 in matches listed on MaxPreps.

–        Dawson, which won the Centaurus invite earlier in the season, has proven resilient through a tough schedule. The Mustangs have three dual losses this fall — one to Niwot, which they managed two wins against. The other defeats came to 5A Boulder and Fossil Ridge.

–        Broomfield’s Kai Trujillo and Monarch’s Conner Smith, two of the area’s top 5A players, have played a pair of thrilling matches over the past two weeks. Trujillo won both of them in a tight three sets.