Girls tennis: Fairview, Legacy sending No. 1 singles to state

May 3—At the start of the spring tennis season just a couple months ago, Fairview junior Stella Laird prepared herself for another year as the Knights' No. 2 singles representative.

A season-ending injury to returning Class 5A 1 singles champion Quinn Bernthal, however, unexpectedly vaulted her to the top of the lineup. She transitioned seamlessly. On Friday at her own home court, under the shadow of the Flatirons, Laird herself loomed large as she blasted past her two opponents at the Class 5A Region 5 tournament.

She only surrendered one out of 25 games and swept Legacy sophomore Macy Black 6-0, 6-0 in the 1 singles finals. Prior to the tournament, she boasted a 15-2 record and noted that every passing match has challenged her to play her best tennis.

"For me, it's mostly just consistency," Laird explained. "Some matches, I'm on fire. Some matches, I guess, I'm not as on fire. I just need to work on being able to play high-level tennis with those types of people more consistently."

Black couldn't match the intensity that Laird was throwing down on the court but tried her best to adjust on the fly, as she has all season since rocketing up from No. 4 doubles at the beginning of the year.

The mental side of the game, she said, hit her the hardest. She anticipated Laird's shots to the best of her ability, always staying on her toes, but still couldn't steal a game away from her.

"I think that was one of the hardest games that I've played," Black said. "She was incredible. She was so good at returning the ball and making it move around. It was definitely very challenging, the most challenging match I've had so far."

The loss, while a bit of a shock to the system, was just a small taste of what Black will encounter when she heads to Denver City Park for the 5A state tournament next weekend. Laird, on the other hand, believes that after her stellar season atop the Knights' varsity roster, she has what it takes to make a deep run in the individual state tournament.

Last year, she lost to Cherry Creek's Anika Sharma in both the team and individual finals.

"I beat some of the people I'm going to play there, so as long as I keep up the same level, I think I got a good shot," Laird said. "I'm excited to go play Anika again to get my revenge. I think this year could be the year. Even if I don't win state, I think it'll be a good experience. I'm excited to see how far I can go."

Laird headlined a strong effort for the Knights on Friday, as the top seven lines — 1 singles through 2 doubles — all secured regionals championships and automatic bids to the state tournament.

Bernthal's exit and the ensuing shakeup that resulted only seemed to strengthen the Knights' resolve.

"We've worked really hard in practice on those strong doubles — emphasizing the consistency, emphasizing our different players' strengths, and focusing in on each and every point," head coach Tanya Cumalat said. "It's been really fun, especially the last couple of weeks. I've even been told by other coaches, like, 'Hey, you've gone up a level since we played in dual matches,' compared to the teams we've played today. That's really exciting."