Girls Tennis: Grandview’s Yehna Bendul & Rachel Cullop come up just short of 5A No. 2 doubles state title

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Grandview seniors Rachel Cullop, second from right, and Yehna Bendul, right, pose with teammates after they played in the No. 2 doubles state championship match at the Class 5A girls state tennis tournament on May 13, 2017, at Gates Tennis Center. Cullop and Bendul became the program’s first finalists in 14 years and took a set lead before falling in three sets to a team from Denver East. (Photo by Courtney Oakes/Aurora Sentinel)

DENVER | Yehna Bendul and Rachel Cullop got to the point this tennis season where no opponent or moment seemed too big for them.

It was an important development for the Grandview seniors and the main reason they worked their way onto center stage at Gates Tennis Center Saturday in the No. 2 doubles championship match at the Class 5A girls state tennis tournament.

Bendul and Cullop won the first set against Denver East’s Maddie Darrie and Kelly Wulf’s in their bid to become the Wolves’ first-ever state champions, but that was as close they got as the Angels’ forced a third set and played near-perfect tennis at the end in a 3-6, 6-2, 6-4 victory.

Grandview senior Rachel Cullop had to go all the way to the back fence to make this return during the No. 2 doubles state championship match at the Class 5A girls state tennis tournament on May 13, 2017, at Gates Tennis Center in Denver. Cullop and partner Yehna Bendul lost in three sets. (Photo by Courtney Oakes/Aurora Sentinel)

As is their demeanor, the Grandview duo was relatively even-keel about the result.

“It was really satisfying going further than last year and getting here was really awesome,” Bendul said. “It would have obviously been more satisfying if we had won, but I’m proud of us.”

“Second is still good,” Cullop said.

Despite the loss, Bendul and Cullop’s accomplishment was significant. They became the first Grandview players to play for a state championship since 2003 when the Wolves’ No. 3 doubles team of Rachel Dahmer and Carly Romberg and No. 4 doubles team of Ashley Howe and Julie Wainwright finished as runners-up. They also contributed 10 of the 11 points for coach Jeff Ryan’s team that matched Grandview’s largest point production at a state tournament since 2004.

Playing together for a second straight season, Bendul and Cullop — who were motivated by a three-set quarterfinal loss at last season’s state tournament at No. 3 doubles — lost just two matches, one to a Cherry Creek team they gained revenge on (at least half of it) with a straight-set win over the Bruins in the quarterfinals.

The Grandview duo cruised past Jennifer Gallagher and Grace Chadwick of Rock Canyon in Friday’s semifinals to earn a spot in the finals. Ryan could see what last season’s experience did for their determination.

“I think their performance stems from last year when they lost in the quarterfinals in a match they thought they could have won,” Ryan said. “I think it stewed with them and they thought ‘we’re not going to let this happen again.’ It was their motivation to play well and they have the confidence because of the experience and they know they can come out here and compete.

“They never once thought they were overmatched and they went into every match with an air of confidence that they could beat anybody, which is a big difference from last year.”

Grandview senior Yehna Bendul lines up a volley during the second set of her three-set loss along with partner Rachel Cullop in the No. 2 doubles state championship match at the Class 5A girls state tennis tournament on May 13, 2017, at the Gates Tennis Center in Denver. (Photo by Courtney Oakes/Aurora Sentinel)

Indeed Bendul and Cullop went confidently into the match against Denver East and had things rolling in the first set.

But the Angels — who prevailed in a three-set semifinal the previous day — dug in after the teams split the first four games of the second set. Denver East won four straight to take the set.

The third set went back-and-forth and eventually got to 4-4 before the Angels were able to break the Wolves on the serve of Bendul, who had struggled getting in her first serve for much of the match.

“I missed every single one of my first serves it seemed like,” Bendul said. “I got a few in the third set, but the first set was definitely the best. They missed a couple of good changes, so that was nice.”

Even after the break, Bendul and Cullop got ahead 30-love against Denver East in an attempt to even the score but Darrie and Wulf scored the last three points and won the title when Bendul’s last shot went just long.

“They were really aggressive and they didn’t make many mistakes, so I don’t feel too bad about it,” Cullop said.

It was likely the competitive tennis finale for both players, who said they don’t plan to play at anything higher than an intramural level in college.

Grandview’s other point at the state tournament came from the No. 4 doubles team of sophomore Rithika Gingupalli and freshman Mia Nguyen, who won their first round match before going down in the quarterfinals.

Junior No. 3 singles player Amanda Olsen-Dufour made her second career trip to the state tournament for the Wolves, but suffered a three-set loss in the opening round and did not get a playback chance.

Courtney Oakes is Aurora Sentinel Sports Editor. Reach him at 303-750-7555 or [email protected] Twitter: @aurorasports. FB: Aurora Prep Sentinel

Grandview seniors Yehna Bendul, left, and Rachel Cullop hold up their No. 2 doubles runner-up medals at the Class 5A girls state tennis tournament on May 13, 2017, at Gates Tennis Center. (Photo by Courtney Oakes/Aurora Sentinel)

2017 CLASS 5A GIRLS STATE TENNIS TOURNAMENT

May 11-13 at Gates Tennis Center

Team scores: 1. Cherry Creek 61 points; 2. Mountain Vista 52; 3. Ponderosa 42; 4. Denver East 27; 5. Heritage 19; 6. Poudre 18; T7. Fairview 17; T7. Fossil Ridge 17; 9. SMOKY HILL 14; 10. Chatfield 13; 11. GRANDVIEW 11; 12. ThunderRidge 10; 13. Ralston Valley 7; 14. Boulder 6; 15. REGIS JESUIT 5; 16. Rock Canyon 4; 17. Fruita Monument 2; T18. Arapahoe 1; T18. Broomfield 1; T18. Grand Junction 1; T18. Lakewood 1

Championship matches

No. 1 singles — Ky Ecton (Poudre) def. ANSHIKA SINGH (SMOKY HILL), 7-6 (11), 4-6, 6-4; No. 2 singles — Claire Cox (Ponderosa) def. Madi Allen (Mountain Vista); No. 3 singles — Lauren Thomas (Heritage) def. Thinnish Kemica Arul Kumar (Cherry Creek), 6-4, 7-6; No. 1 doubles — Ashlen Grote/Amanda Pruitt (Mountain Vista) def. Hunter Barker/Sydney Waite (Ponderosa), 6-2, 6-3; No. 2 doubles — Maddie Darre/Kelly Wulf (Denver East) def. YEHNA BENDUL/RACHEL CULLOP (GRANDVIEW), 3-6, 6-2, 6-4; No. 3 doubles — Wendy Yan/Rachel Schiff (Cherry Creek) def. McKenna Farley/Caitlin Quirk (Chatfield), 6-1, 6-0; No. 4 doubles — Grace Shepard/Kaki Cantor (Cherry Creek) def. Kim Collamore/Tara Toepke (Fossil Ridge), 6-1, 6-4