LONGMONT — P.J. Juergensen wore the biggest grin under his baseball cap at the Class 4A, Region 3 Tennis Tournament last Friday.
The Longmont coach led his team to the most Class 4A State Tournament qualifiers in his three-year tenure at the school. Erik Silkensen will represent the Trojans at No. 2 singles, Matt Prater will hold the honor at No. 3 singles, and the team of Wade Kingsbury and Kirk Knaus will travel to the Pueblo City Park at No. 2 doubles.
In Juergensen’s first year two players qualified, and last year Longmont sent one representative.
Juergensen played tennis his whole life, but he had never coached the sport or even played competitively. Prior to taking the Trojans position, he had success as a wrestling coach in Milwaukee and Longmont. He used the knowledge he gained there to help make the Longmont tennis players into a tennis team.
“The kids care about each other and care about each other’s success,” Juergensen said. “We’re out there to do this together and see what happens.”
The four juniors who will travel to Pueblo today to begin state tournament play have never participated at the state level before, and each is anxious to see how far they can go.
Silkensen will see Greeley West’s Matt Krammer in the first round, a player he has played this season and with whom he has split matches. Prater will play Pine Creek’s Darren Megalo, someone he has not seen before. Knaus and Kingsbury will face Alex Barkoff and Matt Tullman of Kent Denver, one of the strongest tennis teams in Colorado.
No matter what the results, the team has accomplished its goals for the season.
Juergensen joked with Niwot coach Mark Creek prior to the season that Longmont would beat Niwot this year, a lofty goal because the Cougars had punished Longmont in previous seasons.
That joke gave an edge of motivation, though, The Trojans beat Niwot, 5-2, in the regular season and accomplished two other goals — finishing in the top two of one of the most difficult conferences in Class 4A tennis, then carrying that over to a second-place showing in the regional tournament.
The Trojans finished ahead of Niwot to earn that spot, proving the team’s strength.
“Just to put ourselves in the same league with a team like Niwot is special,” Juergensen said. “I feel like I have more confidence in these guys than sometimes they think they have in themselves.”
Silkensen is confident he will play to his best ability, but he said the team is relaxed for the trip.
“I don’t think anyone on the team is feeling any pressure because it’s the first time any of us is going,” Silkensen said.
Juergensen is happy to see this group take the stage. He said it is the best group of players he has coached because they have the character to play competitively and enjoy the work.
“I try to teach them about the game of life,” he said. “Not everything is easy. You have to work hard and set goals and learn about commitment to your work. You have to be there every day and the results will pay off and you’ll have fun.”
Prater is having an excellent time taking in the advice. Teammate Bobby Stover was the Northern Conference player of the year and Prater attributed that to the team’s class. Stover, one of the team’s three seniors, finished second at the conference tournament, but he has been a leader for Longmont, which is partly why he won the award.
“He’s the best leader we’ve had,” Prater said. “That’s how he got player of the year. He was playing against (No. 1 singles champion) Brandon Lupo, and obviously lost, but he showed way more class.”
The Trojans will be joined at the state tournament by other local players. Niwot’s No. 1, No. 3 and No. 4 doubles teams qualified for the Friday play.
Seniors Brian Kelly and Brian Brooks at No. 1 doubles plan to play more aggressively than they did in the regional tournament and take advantage of their final year of high school tennis.
Both have been to state two times prior, but this will be the first time as a team.
Niwot’s No. 3 doubles team is Eric Babuska and Josh Baer. At No. 4 doubles, the Cougars will send Ryan Philip and Sean Manley to state.
Alexander Dawson’s Erik Lillydahl will try to make a run through the brackets at No. 1 singles. He lost to Lupo in the regional meet, but the senior finished fifth in state his sophomore year and would like to improve on that this season.
Class 4A State Tournament bracket play begins today and concludes with third-place and championship matches Saturday. All matches will be played at the Pueblo City Park.