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Making a statement at 5A boys tennis

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By Michael Hicks

The 2013 5A state boys tennis championships saw a number of firsts. For Adam Rivera, he was the first Dakota Ridge player to qualify for state in eight years. For Columbine’s Andy Wright, he was in the field as a singles player instead of as a doubles player. And for Chatfield, it was time for the Chargers to score a pair of third-place finishes at No. 1 singles and doubles en route to a fifth-place team run. The following vignettes highlight this year’s tournament, held Oct. 10-12 at Denver’s Gates Tennis Center, for nine local players.

GOING FOR IT

John Koza’s faint hopes of a 5A state championship were holding on by a thread, if that. Chatfield’s No. 1 singles player trailed Grand Junction’s Jacob Lapkin 5-1 in the decisive third set of their first-round match; Koza was just four points away from defeat. Then he held serve and broke, held serve and broke, and then did it once more. He won six consecutive games to turn a sure defeat into a 6-1, 3-6, 7-5 victory.

Koza, a four-time 5A Jeffco League champion, was making his fourth trip to state. There would be no tomorrow, and he knew it.

“Honestly, it’s … my last year. I just decided to go for it. May as well go out swinging. It worked out well,” the Chatfield senior said. “I was moving my feet more, kind of got on him a little more, being more aggressive.”

The comeback earned Koza a second-round match with Fairview’s Ignatius Castelino, who beat Koza 6-4, 6-4. But that didn’t deter Koza who worked his way back to earn third place. He rallied to down Vignesh Senthivel of Mountain Vista 1-6, 7-6, 6-0. According to the Colorado High School Activities Association, Chatfield Senior head coach Mark Koza said, it was the highest finish for a Chargers player at No. 1 singles in school history.

The finish helped Chatfield to take fifth in the team standings with 20 points.

“It was very much an overachieving year for Chatfield tennis,” coach Koza said.

DOUBLE THE FUN

John Simpson and Sam Meyer may only be sophomores, but 2013 marked their second trip to the 5A state tournament. Though they may be young, they weren’t overwhelmed by the experience.

“We just played under the same intensity with our second serve as we did with our first serve,” Simpson said following the duo’s 6-3, 6-1 win over Pine Creek’s Tanner Swanson and Josh Haddad in the opening round. In other words, they were trying to be consistent. “Other than that, it was just being here. It’s just a great experience.”

Sure, butterflies popped up early in the three-day tournament, but once Simpson and Meyer took to the court, those went away and they became more and more comfortable.

Though they were defeated by Fairview’s Brock DeHaven and Max Petrak in the quarterfinals 6-4, 6-4, Simpson and Meyer worked their way back in the play-back bracket to take third, scoring a 6-3, 6-2 win over Mountain Vista’s Vamsi Senthivel and Austin Gruszczynksi.

SOARING TO STATE

Adam Rivera had been playing tennis for only three years the last time Dakota Ridge qualified a player for the state tournament. That was in 2005. But there he was on Court No. 12 early on Oct. 10, representing the Eagles.

“It’s just something to be proud of to come in and represent the school, to come out here and look good for everybody and represent positively for our school,” Rivera said.

He didn’t play too shabby, either, once he got started. The No. 1 singles player lost to Arapahoe’s Nicholas Farmen 6-0, 7-5 in the opening round. First-time jitters most definitely got to the Dakota Ridge senior early, but he settled into a groove behind a consistent first serve in the second set.

“I was able to calm down some. Coach gave me some really good advice to stay in the game. At the end, I felt good about myself,” Rivera said.

Rivera was named a first-team all-conference selection in 2013 and was a regional runner-up. The state experience, however, is something else he’ll cherish.

“It’s been great. It’s good to see a lot of people that I know, people I’ve known for four or five years,” Rivera said. “It’s a nice environment to be in and to go out and enjoy yourself.”

HAVING THE WRIGHT STUFF

Andy Wright has been to the state tournament before, but that was as a doubles player. This year, Columbine’s No. 2 singles player was on his lonesome. It was a little unnerving, at least temporarily.

“In the beginning, I did,” Wright said of the nerves he felt. “Once I settled in, I was playing pretty well.”

Wright scored a 6-2, 6-4 opening-round win against Denver East’s Colby Jimenez. The match was played at a slower pace than he’s accustomed to, but the Rebels senior managed just fine. Winning that match also helped to settle those nerves.

“It does. It helps a lot to win that first round,” Wright said. “That’s always the one with the most nerves. After that, it kind of depends on how you’re playing that day.”

But, as is the case at state on the opening day, win or lose, you’re in for a long wait until your next match, if you even have one should you lose in the opening round. Wright knew for certain that he would be playing again, but he also didn’t mind the delay.

“Honestly, I don’t mind. It’s good to get off my feet for a little bit,” he said.

Wright had his state hopes dashed in the quarterfinals, falling to Alec Leddon of Fairview 6-0, 6-0.

A FEEL FOR STATE

The stay at the 5A state tournament was brief for Chatfield’s Brian Ross, Patrick Ross, Austin Stulz and Chase Adams. Each had their championship dreams dashed in the first round.

Brian Ross dropped a 7-5, 6-3 decision to Fairview’s Alec Leddon in the opening round at No. 2 singles, while Patrick Ross was upended in a three-set thriller 6-4, 0-6, 6-3 by Castle View’s Greg Connely at No. 3 singles.  Stulz and Adams ran into a buzzsaw that was Cherry Creek’s Erin Norwood and Matt Gross in the first round at No. 2 doubles, faltering in straight sets 6-0, 6-0.

Despite the early exits, Chatfield head coach Mark Koza knows how important it is for his underclassmen to see what the state experience is like. All four players were either a sophomore or freshman this season.

“It’s important for them to see the environment and what goes on so that they can get more comfortable with it every year,” Koza said.