PUEBLO — The bus pulled through the roundabouts to Pueblo City Park just before 7 a.m.
Cheyenne Mountain had a solid first day at 4A boys' tennis state, but wasn't satisfied and knew the frosty, early morning would claim as many victims as anything — if the Red-Tailed Hawks weren't prepared.
So, they arrived early enough to get a solid warm-up, multiple courts to prepare on and a chance to fully wake up. In turn, they're in a heated battle with Kent Denver for a team title, as well as multiple individual crowns.
"Kent is in the driver's seat since they put so many into the finals and playbacks," coach David Adams said. "We'll have to really win it. We did a great job today of setting ourselves up to do that."
Heading into the final day, Cheyenne Mountain has a deficit to climb — albeit a small one.
Kent Denver has led most of the tournament and holds an event-high 51. The Red-Tailed Hawks are only five points behind.
Coming up big for Cheyenne Mountain was junior Steven Zhou. He's been the team's fire since the regular season ended and advanced to the final after two years of misses.
He finished in the semi final each of the last two chances.
"I knew, internally, that I would have to play a big role for the team (if we wanted to win)," Zhou said. "So, I made it a personal goal to make the finals for the first time. I knew I could, especially once I saw the draw — it was all people I've played before."
The semi final this year pitted Zhou against Palmer Ridge sophomore Ian Capek. When the two teams met earlier in the year, the pair played a grueling, three-set thriller that saw Capek come out on top.
In the playback bracket, Capek will play Evergreen senior Joe Cuntz in hopes of a third-place finish Saturday.
Zhou is part of four total Cheyenne Mountain single or doubles pairs to make it to the final. Kent Denver has four, as well. The two will even face off for an individual title in both No. 1 and No. 3 doubles.
"It's a big advantage to have so many people go so far," CMHS senior Jackson Miller said. "We can get each other going. It's good to have the support."
Cheyenne Mountain came into the day with a small deficit. Air Academy entered it with a larger one.
The Kadets qualified nearly their entire team, but had struggles through the tournament's first day.
Coming through for Air Academy was its No. 2 doubles tandem. Sophomore Asher Kiser and freshman Luke Brooks pushed past regionals as an under-the-radar combination. Once again, they're trudging through state.
They knocked off Colorado Academy's duo of George Buyers and Hudson Parks to advance to the finals. If their rivals are playing with the confidence of a former champ, the Kadets are playing spoiler.
"No one expects us to win," Brooks said. "Cheyenne Mountain has all these expectations, and I'm sure that's hard for them. We're just playing tennis."
"When a big team is good, we can play freely. We have nothing to lose," Kiser added. "If they lose, they'll be asked, 'You got beat by Air Academy?'"
The Kadets, outside of their No. 2 doubles, are done in the tournament.
Senior Javier Aznar Villagarcia nearly came up through the playback bracket to capture a third-place-match spot. He fell to Denver South's Raphael Wieland in his second matchup (6-4, 6-2). Their No. 3 doubles also fell in the second playback match to Colorado Academy.
Both their No. 1 and No. 3 doubles made the playback, but the Bears were unable to advance past the first round — falling to Air Academy in both.
Updated 4A top-five:
1. Kent Denver (51)
2. Cheyenne Mountain (46)
3. Niwot (37)
4. D'Evelyn (30)
5. Colorado Academy (28)
5A boys' tennis state's first day took a lot of contenders out of the picture, including nearly every southern Colorado qualifier.
Pine Creek junior Jackson Zenner stood as the only one still in the tournament after the opening matches, but he too fell Friday after winning his first playback over Rock Canyon sophomore, Will Strabel (7-6, 6-3).
In the pseudo semis to reach the third-place match, he was upended by Fossil Ridge senior Zach Hartman (6-2, 6-0). The Eagles finished with three points to lead both Doherty and Liberty that were unable to score.
The 5A champ will come down to two of the state's powerhouses in Valor Christian and Cherry Creek — the latter being the winningest athletic department, by titles, in state history.
Cheyenne Mountain is in second for the state's all-time title lead. Both could add another Saturday.
Updated 5A top-five:
T-1. Cherry Creek (73)
T-1. Valor Christian (73)
3. Fossil Ridge (42)
4. Regis Jesuit (36)
5. Denver East (18)