Air Academy's win at the sixth annual Kadet Court Kickoff presented as convincing a case as any to why Keenan Kaltenbacher might be the most valuable tennis player in the area.
The team's No. 1 singles player coasted through each of his four matches with straight-set wins and dominated in the finals against the hard-swinging Cody Carlton of Castle View 6-3, 6-2 at Air Academy on Saturday.
Kaltenbacher, the youngest of four tennis-nurtured brothers, exploited his opponents' shortcomings early and often and sparked the tested Kadets to wins over Pueblo West (6-1), Rampart (6-1), ThunderRidge (4-3) and the Sabercats (5-2) on Friday and Saturday. The senior's play was certainly crucial, considering the Kadets' hopes of winning the tournament would have been spoiled by the Grizzlies if not for Kaltenbacher's win over Brent Jones 6-1, 6-2.
"Our kids look up to the shortest player on the team now, and that's Keenan," second-year coach Matt Kiser said. "We don't have the depth I thought we would have early on, so we'll need Keenan more than ever to help lead us in the early parts of the season."
If Kaltenbacher's play over the tourney didn't give evidence of his progression, his offseason résumé might. Kaltenbacher was in the Mountain Ocean Junior Open and took second at the Denver Junior Open among U.S. Tennis Association events.
He and his coach believe those experiences should help, especially with Kaltenbacher's mindset following his disappointing finish at state last year.
After the matches Saturday, the senior talked with former Air Academy tennis standout and older brother Kollen Kaltenbacher, and the two went over how the youngest brother can improve.
"Well, he said I needed to work on three things. He always tries to give me pointers," Keenan said. "He told me my consistency needs to get better, I need to play smarter and take some better shots."
The Kadets and their captain might get an even bigger test next week when they face 4A power Niwot.
Pine Creek was the other area-tennis winner. Just across Interstate 25, the Eagles won the Falcon Court Kickoff.
They came into the tournament without six seniors from a season ago, yet didn't appear to lose a step as they bullied their way through the round-robin-style tournament. No. 1 singles Bradley Ma, a freshman, and No. 2 Coulten Davis each went 2-1, while No. 3 Josh Haddad and the doubles teams went a combined 16-1.
"We looked good today, I'm happy with how we looked," Pine Creek coach Dave Lehman said. "I don't know what it means from here though. Our goal is to always get seven teams and 11 players to state. Is that realistic now? Ah, who knows - but we'll see when we get there."