PUEBLO — With a team title all but out of reach, Niwot boys tennis certainly feels like there is still a lot of work to do and a lot to play for Saturday.
The Cougars went into Friday’s second day of the Class 4A state tournament still mathematically alive for the team title, but needed a lot of matches to go their way in the semifinals. As much of a longshot as it felt, given the crazy rally that they put together to win last year’s team title, coach Aimee Keronen was going to remain hopeful.
“You know how I am with math,” she said.
It wasn’t the math that went against the Cougars in the semifinals, it was some important results. In No. 1 singles, Luke Weber was simply outmatched by D’Evelyn’s Aswaanth Karuppasamy. He fell 6-1, 6-1 but with Keronen still aware that a team trophy could head home with the Cougars, she quickly reminded him that his tournament was not over and his next matches were equally as important as the semifinals.
“He was frustrated after he didn’t play well this morning,” Keronen said. “My athletic director (Joe Brown) and I explained to him that he can get almost as many points as he would’ve had winning that match by going through playbacks. We’re still in the hunt for second and we need every single point.”
They got crucial championship advancement points in both No. 2 and No. 3 singles as LiChen Liao and Alan Wilcox both advanced to their respective finals. But Cheyenne Mountain pulled out of reach as it ended the day with 46 points. Niwot can only earn 45.
In his first crack at state as a singles player, Liao beat D’Evelyn’s Carter Smith 7-5, 6-4 to earn the chance to play for a state title. With so many implications on his performance, he somehow remained calm and focused on the task of just playing his game.
“I didn’t feel a lot of pressure,” he said. “I just thought about playing the match instead of how the match would affect the team.”
The result was beneficial for both himself and the rest of the Cougars. The same can be said for Wilcox as he beat Evergreen’s Joe Cuntz with a dominating 6-3, 6-1 performance. When the championship matches begin on Saturday morning, the teammates will be playing right next to each other.
Dawson had a chance to get one position into a final as Tyler Burridge had advanced to the No. 2 singles semifinal against George Washington’s Owen Duffy. After dropping the first set, Burridge battled back and split the first two before Duffy gained the edge.
The 6-2, 3-6, 6-4 loss to Duffy marked the end of Burridge’s championship aspirations and also made him sick to his stomach. After the first set of his playback match against Colorado Academy’s Clayton Johnson, Burridge had to leave the court for a moment.
“I was sick in that first set and threw up and came back to win the next one 6-0,” Burridge said. “I played great tennis and he played great tennis but I think the (deciding) factor was my team being there for me.”
His team watched him get a 4-6, 6-0, 6-3 win to earn a spot in Saturday’s matches where he’ll play D’Evelyn’s Carter Smith for third.
“I think it’s going to be a tight match,” Burridge said. “I want this a lot. This is my whole season; I didn’t do well in state last year. So this match is for my entire season.”