Going into the 2019 boys tennis season, Pueblo West High School didn’t have a single player with varsity level singles experience.
This year boasts a different story.
Six seniors return, three of which were the team’s singles players a season ago.
“Last season, we didn’t have any players with singles experience and most of our players were also new to doubles,” said Cyclones head coach Nathan Mutz. “We are hoping to build upon what our team learned last season.”
The seniors on Pueblo West’s squad will be the leaders of the team.
Brendan Bradfield was the team’s No. 1 singles player, and team captain last year.
“All of our players have the utmost respect for him,” Mutz said.
Alec Cruz was the team’s doubles captain. He and now-sophomore Guy Cruz were the Cyclones’ No. 1 doubles team.
“(Alec Cruz) always brings a tremendous work ethic and hustle to practice,” Mutz said. “That is invaluable.”
Senior Caydon Branine was the No. 2 singles player as a junior; senior Isaiah Larson played No. 3 doubles and No. 4 doubles; senior Joey Cruz played at No 4 doubles for part of the season; and senior Christian Kruger played at No. 4 doubles as well.
“Each of our seniors brings something special to our team,” Mutz said. “They’ll make sure that we play every match like it is our most important of the season. They take a positive approach when teaching and encouraging our younger players.”
Tommy Cruz, a junior, will round out the team’s singles lineup and was the No. 3 player last year. Junior Travis Persons played No. 2 doubles last year and sophomore Nate Kleven played at the No. 3 doubles position last year.
Those underclassmen, along with Guy Cruz and newcomers Will Dammann (junior) and Xavier Wall (freshman) will round out Pueblo West’s squad.
Mutz said each player, at each position, will have to improve and do his part for the Cyclones to be successful in 2020.
“We hope our team keeps improving on playing aggressive tennis,” Mutz said. “In singles that means dictating points with your best shots. In doubles, that means beating your opponents to the net and working as a team.”
Pueblo West finished with a 4-5 record overall and 2-3 in the Class 4A Region 7 standings.
The Cyclones sent four players to state last year: Joey Cruz and Larson at No. 4 doubles as well as Kleven and graduated senior Michael Amella at No. 3 doubles.
Centennial, Central and Pueblo County will provide tough competition for Pueblo West locally, challenging for coveted spots at a state tournament.
Mutz said his guys will rely on the senior leadership, as well as time spent on the court this summer.
“Our biggest strength is our leadership,” he said. “We also had a lot of our players practicing this summer under the social distancing guidelines set by District 70.”
Players were unable to compete in summer tournaments this year as they were in past years due to the coronavirus outbreak.
The team continued to practice on their own under safe conditions, but Mutz said not having tournament and summer league experience could be a detriment to his team.
“Our biggest weakness was not being to play any summer leagues or tournaments,” he said.
But health, Mutz said, is a priority over winning and losing.
While he said he hopes his team competes and sends more players to state, he also wants his players to remain healthy and safe.
“Win or lose, the biggest challenge to our team is to stay healthy,” Mutz said. “It is important that our players — and fans — follow the COVID-19 guidelines set by CHSAA.”
The season will be shortened, forcing schools to cram a season into a six-week window. Regionals and the state tournament will still allow the same amount of participants, but will be single elimination with no third or fourth place matches.
Mutz said that besides being safe from coronavirus, his players must be smart about playing so much tennis in a short period of time.
“They will need to take extra good care of their bodies,” he said. “They’ll need to eat right and get the proper amount of rest.”
The Cyclones will look to stay healthy, play aggressive tennis and send as many players to the state championship tournament as possible.
And despite the changes to the schedule and how fall tennis will work, Mutz said he and his players are just thankful there will be a season at all.
“All the players and coaches are feeling very fortunate that we are able to have a fall tennis season,” he said.