The stage, albeit an abnormal one, is set for a battle for the Class 5A boys state tennis championship.
Rivals Regis Jesuit — winner of the last two state titles — and Cherry Creek, which owns the most crowns in state history, both head to Gates Tennis Center fully loaded for the state tournament Friday and Saturday.
A two-day format (instead of three) that limits spectators to just two per player per active match, requires masks for all non-players and eliminates the playback bracket will have a much different look, but the competition between the Raiders and Bruins should be typically fierce, especially since Cherry Creek prevailed 5-2 in a dual match between the two powerhouses earlier in the season.
“We learned a lot from that, so I feel fortunate that we were able to do it early enough in the short season that we were able to regroup,” Regis Jesuit coach Laura Jones said after her team swept through regional play.
“I think it was a blessing, I really do. I think any time you lose you have a great opportunity to learn and I feel like a lot of growth has happened since then. I’m sure Creek has grown as well, but I feel like we are going to be more prepared to take them on this time. I’m looking forward to the opportunity and I know our kids will be prepared for it.”
The only head-to-head matchups between the teams can come in finals, as the Raiders and Bruins ended up on opposite sides of all three singles and all four doubles brackets (state pairings, here).
Plenty of outstanding opponents stand between the meetings, but it is possible the Sept. 26 finals have plenty of them. Last season in a state tournament Regis Jesuit won by 13 points, the teams went against each other in four of the seven finals.
Senior No. 1 singles player Morgan Schilling and sophomore No. 3 singles player Cameron Kruep were the only Raiders to come out victorious in the dual match with Cherry Creek, so there is plenty of hunger for revenge at state, especially given the stakes.
A lot of eyes — though remotely this year — will be on No. 1 singles, where Schilling has had a target on his back since his championship victory last season. He has managed to take on all comers so far and enters the state tournament undefeated.
It’s required a few lengthy matches against tough opponents such as Cherry Creek’s George Cavo, Fairview’s Luke Silverman (Schilling’s opponent in last season’s final) and Rock Canyon’s Chris Swanson, but his ability to win those matches has given him confidence.
“I honestly feel better about this year than last year, even though I only dropped one set then and this year I’ve dropped three or four and played several three-set matches,” Schilling said. “I’ve definitely played some good kids and that makes me believe that I can still win, even when I don’t play my best.”
Kruep, who is also a defending state champion at his position, also comes into the state tournament undefeated. He hasn’t lost a set all season, coming closest in the opening set of the dual match against Cherry Creek before coming through for a 7-6 (5), 6-1 victory. Kruep dropped just one game in two regional matches.
Junior Conor Kaczmarczyk, a state champion in 2018, is back in the singles ranks at No. 2 after playing doubles last year, while 2019 No. 2 singles state winner Andy Schuiling is paired with senior Grigor Karakelyan in the top doubles position for Regis Jesuit.
Kaczmarczyk’s only loss came to Cherry Creek’s Matt Batmunkh.
Rounding out the Raiders’ state tournament contingent is the No. 2 doubles team of Jack Carbone and James Lynch, the No. 3 duo of Alexander Samuelson (a state champion last season at No. 4 doubles) and Aidan Sobolevsky and the No. 4 pairing of Ryan McCarthy and Charlie Jenkins.
Carbone and McCarthy placed third at state last season at No. 2 doubles.
Courtney Oakes is Sentinel Colorado Sports Editor. Reach him at 303-750-7555 or [email protected] Twitter: @aurorasports. IG: Sentinel Prep Sports