DENVER — Lily Chitambar hadn’t lost a set all season long, and she let that pressure hang over her when she stepped onto the court for her Class 5A No. 1 singles state championship match on Saturday morning at the Gates Tennis Center.
Her opponent, Fairview sophomore Quinn Bernthal, took advantage as she claimed the first set by a 6-4 score. But the Boulder senior and defending state champion had been in that position before just a year earlier when Smoky Hill’s Valerie Negin similarly won the first set to force Chitambar to fight all the way back through the next two.
That’s exactly what she did again on Saturday morning to secure her second consecutive 1 singles crown as she bounced back from early racket issues to punch out a 4-6, 6-4, 6-4 final.
“Last year, I had nothing to lose, really, but this year, I felt like I had a lot of pressure. I was just really nervous,” she said. “(Bernthal is) amazing. Her forehand is sick. I didn’t even know how to deal with it and when I tried to hit to her backhand, she would just run around and smack a forehand. It was very hard at first to get adjusted to that.”
Once the Gates staff graciously restrung her racket, Chitambar was back to her old ways. Bernthal held a slight edge for much of the second set as each girl played game-for-game. When Bernthal went up 4-3, Chitambar went into warrior mode and seized the next three to steal the set.
The third set played out much the same, as Chitambar regained control after Bernthal built up an early 3-2 advantage. She shut Bernthal down after that.
“It was a great match and she’s obviously a really great player, so it was fun to play her,” Bernthal said. “I think it kind of went back-and-forth between who was winning the court position and who was on offense. I think, in the first set, maybe I had a little bit of an advantage there. All the way through, in the first set, it was super close.”
The road to back-to-back state titles started before Chitambar was old enough to hold a racket and culminated in a high school sendoff that she’ll surely never forget. Her talent and her grit among the toughest competition has etched her name in the Colorado prep history books not once, but twice.
This time around, she did it without dropping a single match. Had it not been for Bernthal’s performance on Saturday, she would have had a flawless set record as well.
“Because she started at a young age, she has the fundamentals and she has an understanding of all the different tools that she can use that I’ve learned by working with her over the last two years,” Boulder head coach Elizabeth Korevaar said. “I become a better coach, better player the more time I spend with her because she sees so many different dimensions in the game that I didn’t know before.”
Bernthal, of course, will be someone to watch out for in the 5A tennis scene over the next few years.
Not only did she rise to the 1 singles championship as a sophomore, but she did so after losing out in the 3 singles championship match her freshman season. She made the leap from two lines down and didn’t miss a beat.
She even had to battle back from a back strain that kept her sidelined during the two weeks leading up to regionals.
“I was just impressed with Quinn’s composure throughout this whole tournament,” Fairview assistant coach Rebecca Warren said. “She played as if she had been here hundreds of times before and this was nothing new for her. Between her composure, her willingness to grind every point and to not see herself as an underdog, to see herself as an equal, it was such a privilege to watch her and be here for that.”
Fairview takes runner-up team trophy
Fairview tennis has been finding itself in the Class 5A state championship conversation the last few seasons, and Saturday was no different.
Heading into the last day of the tournament, the Knights trailed perennial powerhouse Cherry Creek by just seven points, 73 to 66, in the race for their second state crown after earning their first in 2016. The Bruins, however, edged them out in the finals as Fairview claimed the runner-up trophy for the second straight year.
Jane Roth and Maya Brakhage earned the lone state title for the Knights as the 2 doubles pair outplayed Cherry Creek’s Farrah Bendell and Sayeesha Garud in a 1-6, 6-3, 6-4 decision. The Knights also enjoyed championship match appearances from Stella Laird (2 singles), Elle Middleton (3 singles) and Lizzy Roth and Virginia Gomulka (1 doubles), but they all ultimately lost to their Cherry Creek adversaries.
Even though Fairview fell just a bit short this spring, it looks incredibly dangerous for 2023. The Knights will bring back their top five lines as Cherry Creek will be graduating their girls at 1 singles, 2 singles, 1 doubles and 4 doubles.