For the first time in awhile, Aurora players took center court at the Class 5A girls state tennis tournament.
Smoky Hill No. 1 singles player Anshika Singh and the Grandview No. 2 doubles team of Yehna Bendul and Rachel Cullop put the city in state championship matches for the first time in six seasons, though both fell short of bringing home a state title in lengthy three-set finals.
The state finalists headline the 2017 Aurora Sentinel All-Aurora Girls Tennis Team, which is based primarily on results from the 5A state tournament at the Gates Tennis Center and/or season/regional performance.
In her first season since her transfer from powerhouse Cherry Creek, Singh put the Smoky Hill program back on the map. She sat out all of last season after her mid-year transfer with no physical move — motivated by academics — but she made the most of her return to high school tennis after honing her game in tournament play.
Singh lost just four games in the entire regular season in going undefeated, won a regional championship and made it all the way to the 5A No. 1 singles final, something no Smoky Hill player had done in nearly a quarter century. Singh and Poudre’s Ky Ecton — also a junior — slugged it out for nearly four hours in the blazing sun in the state championship match, with Ecton finally coming out on top in a three-set result.
It was Singh’s one and only loss in two seasons of high school tennis. She won the No. 2 singles title as a freshman at Cherry Creek.
Grandview continues to build the strength and depth of its program and coach Jeff Ryan saw the progress pay off in 2017 as the Wolves scored 11 points, the most they had picked up at the 5A state tournament since 2004.
The No. 2 doubles team of Bendul and Cullop, playing together for a second straight season, gave the program its first finalists since 2003 when the No. 3 doubles team of Rachel Dahmer and Carly Romberg and No. 4 doubles team of Ashley Howe and Julie Wainright played for titles. Building off the momentum of a state tournament appearance last season that included a huge regional win over Cherry Creek, Bendul and Cullop’s confidence was apparent every time they took the court.
In the state quarterfinals, Bendul and Cullop knocked off a Cherry Creek team — or at least half of it — that had dealt them their only loss during the regular season, then cruised past Rock Canyon in the semifinals and built a set lead over Denver East’s Maddie Darre and Kelly Wulf in the state championship match to put themselves in position to become the program’s first state winners.
The Angels rallied to win the next two sets, however.
Grandview’s No. 4 doubles team of sophomore Rithika Gingupalli and freshman Mia Nguyen won their first round state match before a quarterfinals loss and the Wolves had Aurora’s only No. 3 doubles team to qualify for state, though they didn’t actually play in the tournament. Senior Dani Feck and sophomore Juniel Figures made state as a regional runner-up, but Figures dislocated a kneecap at the conclusion of the final match and the team was forced to withdraw from state.
The Grandview No. 1 doubles team of senior Ila Farhang and sophomore Eleana Welsh — who both made state trips with different partners in 2016 — finished as the alternates at a very difficult Region 4 tournament, but had a very strong season up until that point.
Coach Kollman Gearhart’s Regis Jesuit team was seasoned in some places and young in others, but singles were particularly strong. All three of the Raiders’ singles players won at least a match and earned all five of the team’s state points.
Junior Miki Erickson at No. 2 singles and senior Megan Lantz at No. 3 singles both lost in the first round to the eventual state finalists at their positions, which netted them playback chances.
Each won a match on the backside of their respective brackets before falling in the consolation semifinals.
Courtney Oakes is Aurora Sentinel Sports Editor. Reach him at 303-750-7555 or [email protected] Twitter: @aurorasports. FB: Aurora Prep Sentinel
2017 AURORA SENTINEL ALL-AURORA GIRLS TENNIS TEAM
No. 1 singles: Anshika Singh, Smoky Hill, jr.; No. 2 singles: Miki Erickson, Regis Jesuit, jr.; No. 3 singles: Megan Lantz, Regis Jesuit, sr.; No. 1 doubles: Ila Farhang & Eleana Welsh, Grandview; No. 2 doubles: Yehna Bendul & Rachel Cullop, Grandview; No. 3 doubles: Dani Feck & Juniel Figures, Grandview; No. 4 doubles: Rithika Gingupalli & Mia Nguyen, Grandview
Skyler Mydler, Regis Jesuit, jr. (No. 1 singles); Amanda Olsen-Dufour, Grandview, jr. (No. 3 singles); Lauren Markel & Olivia Martinett, Regis Jesuit (No. 1 doubles); Fran Belibi & Sara Sinelli, Regis Jesuit (No. 2 doubles); Marie Manassee & Grace Neff, Regis Jesuit (No. 4 doubles)