LONGMONT — Niwot girls tennis coach Miika Keronen watched his No. 1 doubles team battling through a third set in the finals of the Class 4A Region 3 tournament and knew exactly what was on the line.
A win by Claire Runge and Taylor Oliver, and the Cougars would claim the team title. A loss, and they would share the crown with Broomfield.
“They don’t know that, though,” Keronen said as he watched.
It was a good thing, too, because the Niwot freshmen remained composed and came through with a 1-6, 6-2, 6-3 victory against Silver Creek’s Annie Weiner and Lexi Laursen on Friday at Silver Creek High School.
“I was glad I didn’t know (the stakes) because I would have felt more pressure,” Runge said. “(Afterward) I was just overflowing with happiness.”
The victory at No. 1 doubles gave Niwot a total of 59 points, just three more than second-place Broomfield.
Silver Creek, led by No. 1 singles champion Heather Bybee, finished third with 39 points, while Skyline was fourth (37 points) and Longmont sixth (21 points).
It was Niwot’s fifth consecutive regional title.
“It’s really awesome to do it again,” said junior Delia Bakeman, who claimed Niwot’s other individual title, at No. 2 singles. “All of the freshmen are awesome players, and it’s great to see we’re such a great team already.”
The Cougars have just one senior, while six freshmen led the way to the team title. In addition, seven of the 11 varsity players are headed to the state tournament.
Runge and Oliver are two of the freshmen. After dropping the first set against Silver Creek, they played extremely well the final two sets.
“We got our energy up and started to play confident,” Oliver said. “Confidence (means) a lot.
“I was just so excited we could pull it out for the team.”
Bakeman also had to battle for her championship trophy. After losing the first set, 7-5, to Broomfield’s Lindsey Borrell, she rallied to win the next two for a 5-7, 6-2, 6-1 victory.
“What I had to do was focus on being really consistent and putting every ball in play,” Bakeman said. “As the games went on, (Borrell) got more inconsistent.”
Also headed to state from Niwot is No. 1 singles player Allie Hefter, No. 3 player Allyson Lee, and the No. 4 doubles team of Alex Forke and Whitney Fredericks.
While Niwot slipped past Broomfield for the team title, Bybee left absolutely no question about her standing as the region’s top player.
The Raptors junior rolled past Hefter, 6-0, 6-1, in the finals at No. 1 singles. Hefter — another Niwot freshman — was the only player to even win a game against Bybee this weekend, as Bybee finished with a 36-1 game record.
“I just think I’m playing really well,” Bybee said. “It wasn’t a goal (to win every single game), but I’ve just been playing really well. I guess if I didn’t lose a game it would be better, but losing one, you can’t really get any better.”
Today is the one-year anniversary of Bybee’s most disappointing day as a tennis player. In the 2004 regional finals, she blew out her knee and missed out on the state tournament.
“It was in the back of my mind, just to make it through healthy and go to state,” she said. “I knew nothing would happen, though, because my knees are strong.”
So is her game. Bybee will take a 15-0 record into the state tournament, and she’ll be considered among the favorites to medal.
“I’ll just take it to anyone I play,” she said.
Bybee will be joined at state by four Raptors teammates, including Weiner and Laursen, who followed up their loss in the finals with a playback victory against Broomfield.
The No. 2 doubles team of Meredith Laitos and Becky Jacobson were the only players from the region to qualify for state without reaching the finals. The Silver Creek duo defeated Mountain View in the playbacks.
Longmont’s Brittny Roemer will be the lone Trojan at state, but she’s going in on a high note. The sophomore has won 10 straight matches, including Friday’s 6-2, 6-3 win against Niwot’s Lee in the No. 3 singles finals.
Lee had defeated Roemer, 6-1, 6-3, on March 31.
“I think confidence was really important (on Friday),” Roemer said. “I had lost to her during the (regular) season, so it was a big obstacle to overcome. I just kept really positive.”
Skyline is sending four girls to state after claiming regional championships at No. 2 doubles and No. 3 doubles.
The No. 2 doubles team of Mallory Brumley and Melissa Jones extended its winning streak to 13 matches and improved to 13-1 on the season with a 6-4, 2-6, 6-2 victory against Mountain View’s Whitney Stelmack and Amber Bullock in Friday’s finals.
“I was really worried (after losing the second set), but we just had to refocus,” said Brumley, a senior. “I knew we could do it and pull it out.”
Brumley and Jones were down 4-1 in the first set before rallying, and ended up with their second straight regional title together. They won at No. 4 doubles last year.
“It is so exciting,” said Jones, a sophomore. “I’m just really stoked right now.”
Skyline’s No. 3 doubles team — Alyssia Aguilar and Jennifer Litzenberger — claimed the regional title when Broomfield had to forfeit the match because of an injury.