Cheyenne Mountain’s Andrew Ballenger’s sophomore season hasn’t been easy. As the Red-Tailed Hawks’ No. 1 singles player, Ballenger is tasked with facing opponents’ best player every match.
Ballenger faced his toughest test yet on Tuesday, falling 2-0 (6-1, 6-1) to Kent Denver’s Nathan Gold.
Gold, also a sophomore, went 20-0 as a freshman and lost just one set all season en route to the 2021 Class 4A No. 1 singles state title.
By winning two games, Ballenger competed better than many of Gold’s challengers. The Kent Denver sophomore regularly downs opponents 6-0, 6-0.
Still, Gold earned the win fairly easily.
“I thought I played all right; he just hits a really good ball and I struggled to keep up with it,” Ballenger said.
Ballenger was pivotal a year ago as Cheyenne Mountain tied Kent Denver for a share of the Class 4A team state championship. He and doubles partner Matt Peterson went 14-2 in No. 2 doubles on the season and finished third as a duo at state.
Playing singles has always been Ballenger’s goal.
“I wanted to play singles even freshman year, but I wasn't able to,” Ballenger said. “I feel very comfortable with singles, so it wasn’t much of a transition.”
In his first year playing singles at the high school level, Ballenger is 2-5. Ballenger has been tasked with facing skilled racqueteers from tennis juggernauts like Valor Christian, D’Evelyn and Niwot.
Though Ballenger has lost a handful of times, the sophomore embraces tough matches.
“It helps me know what I have to do to play well,” Ballenger said. “It’s cool playing people that are so good.”
Red-Tailed Hawks coach Dave Adams thinks this adversity will help Ballenger mature as a player.
“This is a growing opportunity for Andrew, and it’s hard,” Adams said. “We’re playing very high-level competition this year. This is a learning year for him; he’s going to see a lot of good players.”
Ballenger isn’t discouraged by his losing record. He knows being the No. 1 player is an honor and he’ll only improve because of it.
“Obviously if I was playing No. 2 or No. 3 I would win more matches, but it’s just fun being No. 1,” Ballenger said.
Adams added, “I haven’t seen him get down; that’s what I like about him. He’s a water-off-the-back kid, and he’s going to get better from this experience.”
Because of his underclassman status, Ballenger has plenty of time to become a standout in No. 1 singles.
Ballenger knows he will likely get another shot at Gold before he graduates, and that excites him.
“Hopefully in the future I’ll play a little better (against him) and win a few more games,” Ballenger said.
Red-Tailed Hawks fall to Sun Devils
As a team, Cheyenne Mountain fell 6-1 to Kent Denver. Senior Steven Zhou earned the Red-Tailed Hawks' lone win in No. 2 singles, defeating Kent Denver's Will Moldenhauer 2-1 (4-6, 6-0, 0-0 (10-7)).
The loss was Cheyenne Mountain’s second of the year and snapped a five-match winning streak. The Red-Tailed Hawks’ (5-2) other loss came to Valor Christian — the No. 1 team in Class 5A — in their season opener.
With just two matches remaining in the regular season, Adams believes tough matches like Tuesday's will help his squad get back to where it was last year: the winner's circle.
“We just need to play the best competition we can and keep growing from it,” Adams said. “You can learn a lot more from your losses than you can with easy wins. It’s good to be challenged.”
Cheyenne Mountain’s next match is on the road Saturday against Discovery Canyon.