The toughest part? The pressure.
Ask Kylee Sullivan or Payton Fielding or seemingly anyone from this dizzyingly successful freshman class at Cheyenne Mountain about the trickiest aspect of their transition to high school athletics and the answer is never the actual level of golf or tennis or any other sport. Instead, it’s the need to perform for their teammates, to live up to the team’s expectation and maintain a standard set at one of the state’s most successful schools.
The sport itself? That’s the easy part. And that makes the future prospects all the more encouraging – or discouraging, if you’re on the other side – now that so many of these freshmen have that initial experience out of the way.
“Looking back at how many state titles we’ve had in the past, you definitely want to uphold that,” said Fielding, who won the 4A tennis title in No. 2 singles earlier this month “You kind of just want to do the best you can do to live up to the legacy of the school.”
Fielding and her classmates are doing just that. And then some.
Sullivan enters her first state golf tournament Monday among the favorites, while fellow freshman Samantha Weber joins her for a team that has title aspirations. There was Fielding in tennis, earning the most points on a team that took its 17th team title. In baseball, Nick Lacayo has started from day one for a baseball team that will be one of four alive next week as it seeks its third title in four years. In volleyball, Courtney Domme was a regular contributor on a team that won its fourth straight championship.
In boys’ golf, Cole Anderson and John Belk were in the Nos. 2 and 3 spots as the Indians ran away with the league title.
In soccer, Hunter Peifer stepped in at goalie and shut out powerful Palmer Ridge as Cheyenne Mountain took its second straight 4A Metro title and earned the top seed at state, where Bridget Gleason then scored three goals in the first two games.
In girls’ swimming, Alden Lovaas and Ellie Brewer were instant contributors to an elite program. In softball, Hayley Cobb was one of the leading hitters and Bridget Gleason was the No. 1 pitcher.
Every one of these athletes is from the class of 2015.
“They’ve had a ton of success as freshmen and we just hope that they continue to progress,” athletic director Kris Roberts said. “If they continue to get better and improve like we saw them improve this year throughout their careers then it’ll be really exciting.”
But Roberts acknowledges that a major part of that progression is what’s happening right now -- Sullivan and Weber competing on Monday and Tuesday at state, Lacayo getting valuable at-bats at All-Star Park, Peifer’s start in the quarterfinals against Valor Christian. Because when they return as sophomores, they’re going to have experience that not many their age can claim.
“You saw that with our football program this year in the playoffs,” Roberts said. “We hadn’t been there in years and years and we get on that stage and we don’t play particularly well. A ton of these kids are exposed to this and when they get back they’re able to play at a high level instead of being stuck in awe of the fanfare. I think that’s a huge deal to get these young players exposed with these quality teams.”
Of course, the transition is different in every sport and for every athlete. Sullivan has played in countless junior golf tournaments, but it wasn’t like the first time she played with a Cheyenne Mountain logo on her shirt.
“There’s a lot more riding on tournaments now because I have a team with me,” said Sullivan, who won the league title by 22 strokes. “Just to be able to say I’m on the varsity team; I do feel pride in being able to say that I play for Cheyenne.”
For Lacayo and several others in this class, the transition was eased by an older sibling. Nick’s brother, Jerry, is the senior catcher on the team and is now “like a fifth coach.”
“I’ve been hanging out with all these guys since my brother was 10,” Nick Lacayo said. “So they knew me and it hasn’t been a big deal.”
Fielding’s connection came through her father, a tennis pro at The Broadmoor. It was there that she became acquainted with every member of the Indians team.
That underscores a larger point: many freshmen at Cheyenne Mountain have advantages that many others simply don’t have.
That’s been the reality for a long time, and the school certainly doesn’t hide from its identity.
“Our goal is not to win a league championship,” Roberts said. “Our goal is to win a state championship. It’s just kind of the culture that’s developed over the years.”
Roberts said it is a luxury to have so many athletes coming in immediately ready to contribute at a high level.
“All of the kids have had great support from their parents and they’ve played a lot,” Roberts said. “You look at Payton Fielding or Kylee Sullivan or any of our young kids who are playing at the varsity level, they’ve played a lot of whatever it is prior to getting there. There’s been time and effort and money invested in getting them there.
“You’re not talking about a kid who shows up in high school and decides to play a sport. They’ve been working at it for a while.”
But they hadn’t done it under the microscope of competing for their school. Now they’ve done that. And they’ve done it well.