PUEBLO - In a sport where regional placement reigns king, Fountain Valley coach Randy Jones said he was glad to be away from 4A Region 6, where tennis tormentors Cheyenne Mountain and Air Academy loomed.
Thursday was a good indication as to why.
Enjoying their second year in Region 7, a weaker region than Region 6, the Danes sent all three of their singles players to the regional championship matches for the first time in five years. No. 1 singles Uracha "Ik" Feangreung, No. 2 singles Casey Lane and No. 3 singles Ji-Won Park punched their tickets one right after another at Pueblo City Park on Thursday afternoon.
"(Region 7) is a very nice fit for us," Jones said with a smirk. "Cheyenne Mountain's region is pretty tough. You have two teams in Cheyenne Mountain and Air Academy who consistently are one of the top five teams in the state. We're glad to be where we're at."
The three singles players have the inside track to the state tournament. Win their finals matches and they advance; lose and await a possible playback.
Getting to the championship matches wasn't easy though. Seniors Feangreung and Lane dropped the first sets in their semifinals matches before rallying to a pair of three-set wins.
Feangreung, who went to University in Greeley three years ago from Thailand on a student-exchange program before transferring to the Danes, used her signature pop-fly shot to twist up Pueblo Central's Megan Moore down the stretch and win 3-6, 6-1, 6-4.
Feangreung also trailed 3-1 in the third set before her looping shot forced Moore to make one unforced mistake after another.
"I just try to slow down the game and make the point longer," said Feangreung, who learned to play tennis in middle school against Thai players of all ages on the weekends. "I let my opponent try to hit the ball really hard and make the mistake."
On the other side of the park at the same time, Lane was still trailing. The Danes senior, who was the No. 1 singles player before Feangreung replaced her last season, said she lacked confidence at the start of her semifinals match, dropping the first set to Pueblo West's Sarah Megilligan because of it.
"Sarah had already beat me before this year in straight sets, so I came in thinking that I didn't have a great chance of winning," said Lane, who rallied to win 5-7, 6-2, 6-2. "But after I lost the first set, I just told myself to relax and play loose. I thought of a song to concentrate on, and play over and over in my head, so I wouldn't focus on being nervous out there."
Lane hummed the tune "You Can't Stop the Beat" from the musical "Hairspray" on her way to consecutive set wins and grabbed a spot in the region finals for the second year in a row.
Feangreung and Lane will both return to the finals, a place where the two lost in straight sets last season.
Last time, Lane didn't qualify for state after losing her finals' playback match and Feangreung dropped her first match at the 4A state tournament.
Park, the team's new No. 3 player, didn't lose a set on Thursday and will play in her first finals match Friday.
In the finals, second-seeded Feangreung will face top-seeded Sarah Schoenbeck, top-seed Lane will take on Pueblo County's Sarah Brown and third-seed Park has Pueblo West's Caitlin McCarthy.