May 14, 2011 Updated: July 3, 2013 at 9:37 am
PUEBLO • A photo circulating around Pueblo City Park provided some explanation as to how Cheyenne Mountain has built such a tennis dynasty.
The Indians added another trophy to their collection on Saturday, taking titles at Nos. 2 through 4 doubles and three other top-three finishes at the 4A girls’ tournament en route to their 16th team championship since 1986.
The boys have 15 titles in that same span.
The key to all of this is found in that photo.
In the snapshot, Katie Boe, Kristen Sullivan and Emily Venner were among four smiling 10-year-old teammates in a tennis program run by Richard Hillway at the Country Club of Colorado.
Seven years later they are still teammates, only now with the Indians.
On Saturday, Venner took third at No. 2 singles, Sullivan second at No. 3 singles and Boe teamed with Frances Adams to take third at No. 1 doubles.
But the picture could have included any of the 11 Cheyenne Mountain players, as all learned under Hillway. Most started as early as second grade under the guidance of the now-retired guru, who moved to Colorado Springs in 1981 and started teaching youth lessons. Five years later, Cheyenne Mountain was winning titles. And they haven’t stopped winning.
“By the time you get to high school, you’ve already had years of tennis,” said Lainey O’Neal, who teamed with Katie Stagnaro for a 6-2, 6-0 victory over Niwot in the No. 2 doubles final. “So, our athletes are already really trained. A lot of that comes from Rich. He has a really great program there and he really gets it started at young ages. So we’re strong throughout.”
With that foundation, Cheyenne Mountain captured its third straight title after losing three of its top four players.
“We didn’t have any hotshot freshmen coming into the program this year who we could move right into the varsity,” coach Dave Adams said. “So that meant kids from our second team had to be ready to step up. And three of those girls stepped right in and won a state title.”
Those girls were the No. 4 doubles team of Caroline Fitzhugh and Alison Lynch, who beat a team from Regis 7-5, 6-3 in the final and Shelby Gilles, who teamed with Lara Walden at No. 3 doubles for a 6-3, 6-3 win over Mullen in the first victory of the day for the Indians, meaning it was the title clincher.
“To come out and win when people were kind of doubting us, we were like, ‘No, we worked hard,’” Gilles said. “We wanted this.”
The Indians entered Saturday needing just one victory to seal the title. By winning five of six matches the team competition turned into a runaway with Cheyenne Mountain at 69 points, Regis Jesuit at 52 and Broomfield third at 44.
“We knew this year was going to be more of a fight,” O’Neal said. “It’s just so perfect how it all worked out. Every position came through.”
That’s not an exaggeration. Lauren Renjard was knocked out after earning two points at No. 1 singles, and every other spot earned at least eight points.
No other team had that kind of across-the-board production, as the champions were once again the picture of consistency.