PUEBLO — LiChen Liao isn’t used to losing. When he fell in the No. 2 singles semifinal of the Class 4A boys tennis individual state tournament Friday, there was a lot of uncertainty over how he would react.
Uncertainty from his coaches, uncertainty from his teammates and uncertainty from himself.
Whatever was said to him after the match seemed to work as he came out strong against Mullen’s Patrick Duke in the third-place match Saturday, winning 6-0, 6-1.
“I was disappointed, but I was happy I was able to regroup,” Liao said. “My coaches and teammates comforted me after the loss and that really helped me.”
In that process, he also showed a lot to his coaches and to his teammates. A disappointing loss to Kent Denver’s Will Moldenhauer could have resulted in him shutting down from a competitive mindset. The fact that the team championship is no longer in play through the individual brackets almost made the third-place match mean less.
But he didn’t want to end his season with a loss, so bouncing back to get that win was important to him as a competitor.
“I’ve had a pretty good season this year and I didn’t want to go out losing,” he said. “I wanted to win my final match of the season, so I came out trying to be pretty competitive.”
It was the kind of bounce-back effort that every coach would love to see in any player.
“The maturity that LiChen has shown this tournament is huge,” Cougars coach Aimee Hites said. “He doesn’t lose so I was curious to see how he was going to handle losing yesterday to Kent and he handled it great.”
Niwot had one shot at a state title and it was in the No. 1 singles final as Luke Weber took on Kent Denver’s Nathan Gold.
The Sun Devils sophomore is considered one of the top players in the nation and he showed why as he jumped out to a fast lead and rolled to a 6-0, 6-0 win. It was Gold’s best effort of the tournament and although Hites declared that “no one is unbeatable” on Friday, he may have changed her mind for at least a day.
“I think he would have won a pro tournament today,” Hites said. “Dude wasn’t missing a shot.”
Weber had gotten some payback from last year’s state tournament as he beat D’Evelyn’s Aswaanth Karuppasamy in the semifinals. Before that semifinal match he had only dropped one game in the state tournament.
But he ran into a buzzsaw in the final. Nevertheless, the Cougars came away from the tournament with two medals and a renewed determination to come back as a stronger team in 2023.