Related more closely to how things run in the college ranks, high school tennis programs in Colorado are being introduced to a dual-style postseason bracket this fall.
The original playoff format from years past — where how you did at regionals dictated whether a player moved into the state tournaments in Denver (Class 5A) or Pueblo (4A) — remains. Just at different capacity.
Those three-day tournaments out City Park in Denver and Pueblo City Park will continue to decide the individual singles and doubles state winners for each classification. Meanwhile, a new, separate four-round team dual tournament will determine the season’s team champions.
“I was a big fan of how it was in Pueblo just because every match counted,” said Niwot coach Aimee Hites, seeing the sport maneuver more closely to her college playing days. “You needed 4-doubles to get that one point, or 3-singles to get you seven points or whatever. We’ll miss the camaraderie of that down in Pueblo.”
The former University of New Mexico player added, “But also, being a former college player, I like if you win four of the seven matches (in the playoffs) you move on. I like that, too, because it makes 4-doubles just as important as 1-singles.”
For Hites’ program, which she believes is as strong this season as it was in 2020 when Niwot won Class 4A, the road to team gold starts immediately.
With new significance for every dual match across the regular season, Universal Tennis Rankings, strength of league and schedule, and overall record now determine a team’s ability to reach the postseason.
Closer to the seeding criteria of its fall counterparts of football, soccer and softball, for the tennis season in specific, those results and factors (along with tiebreaking results to the tune of head-to-head results and common opponents) will form what is believed to be a 16-team bracket in each of the 5A and 4A classifications.
“The new dual postseason format has definitely changed a lot of things,” Fairview coach Doug Kazarosian said when asked last week. “Previously head-to-head wasn’t super critical. Now, it’s really everything. Wins and losses are a team matter, strength of schedule matters. It’s created a lot of different dynamics that I don’t think a lot of us coaches had to pay attention to previously.”
In the team dual brackets, higher seeds will host through the semifinals round.
The scoring for each postseason match is the same as a regular-season dual. Meaning, the school who has the most wins across its seven lines (made up of three singles players and four doubles teams) will advance.
The team champion for both 5A and 4A will be decided with a final best-of-seven dual match at City Park Oct. 18, three days after the individual tournaments (Oct. 13-15) are completed.
“It’s a really good opportunity for schools in a team dynamic to have a chance,” Boulder coach Nick Salazar said. “For example, let’s say my No. 1 singles goes up against Team A, and their Team A No. 1 singles is out of this world, like Roger Federer status. My guy isn’t going to have a chance. However, my team plays Team A, and it might not be my No. 1, but my No. 3 singles and all my doubles could be better than theirs, and we beat Team A.”
It’s newfound optimism not just for Salazar and his program, but perhaps for the sport in general, one that has always struggled with parity.
Since high school tennis’ inception into CHSAA in the 1920s, Boulder, Broomfield and Longmont schools have combined for just two team titles — 5A Fairview in 2017 and 4A Niwot in 2020. That’s compared to 5A Cherry Creek’s 44 and 4A Cheyenne Mountain’s 19.
Last year, Boulder was the top-placing 5A team in the BoCoPreps region, sending all seven lines to state while finishing tied for sixth. Niwot finished third in 4A behind co-team champions Cheyenne Mountain and Kent Denver.