Defending state champion Cherry Creek, like many high school boys tennis teams, has a tennis ladder to determine positions on the team.
The Bruins' ladder, however, is an extension ladder.
Creek has a non-cut policy and averages 160 players per season. This year there are only 130 candidates trying out but a large ladder is still needed.
Junior varsity coach Gary Harris is in charge of the ladder for head coach Kirk Price's teams. Cherry Creek will have three varsity teams involving around 40 players. The remaining players form the junior varsity teams and the respective spots are each determined by movement on the ladder.
Creek's first tennis coach Rich Hillway gets credit for starting the tennis ladder, which has evolved over the years.
“Rich started it, then we had a computer program that started with the Dos program and evolved into what it is right now,” said Harris. “It's on the Internet. We have a website. It's part of the system that has evolved through a non-cut policy. A couple years ago we expanded to three varsity teams and we have three junior varsity teams.
“To develop the varsity we have a cluster system. We have 10 clusters, four players in a cluster and those top 40 players determine the three varsity teams.”
The Varsity 1 team consists of the top 11 players on the ladder plus one alternate, who moves up and down. Players 13 to 24 become the second varsity and 25 through 38 the third varsity. The coaches freeze these positions after cluster and assigned matches between the players are completed.
Open challenge matches are allowed all season up through the last player assigned to Varsity 3. Eight players are chosen to compete in two singles clusters to compete for the top three positions and one doubles spot on Varsity 1. Players are chosen using ladder rank, summer tournament play, Intermountain rankings and coaches' decisions as the criteria.
The remaining players that make Varsity 1 are determined by doubles cluster play, which includes Varsity 2 and Varsity 3 players.
Senior Harshil Dwivedi has been playing challenge matches and moving up and down the ladder for years. He was a No. 4 doubles champion with Gifford Mellick as a sophomore and won the No. 1 doubles championship last fall with Jake Miller. He is battling for one of the top three singles positions this season.
“It (the ladder) just kind of forces kids to get better,” Dwivedi said. “Even if they are not very good their freshman year, by their senior year they could win a state title.
“Yeah, it gets frustrating. My sophomore year I played very well the first half of tryouts but barely made the cutoff for the team.”
Depth has obviously been a key factor in Cherry Creek winning 39 of the last 43 state championships.
“The program itself lends to building quality players,” said Price, who is retiring after this season. “One year, we only had one or two ranked players and we still won state and that's because we build players from within with the ladder and team tournaments and the challenges at the beginning and all of that goes into it. They play continuously from day one.”
Creek has six players returning who won or shared Class 5A state championships last season, but the Bruins expect to be challenged by Fairview and Denver East this fall.
Mountain Vista also has five players back from last year's team that finished third at state. There were 40 players that came out for the Golden Eagles team, which doesn't match Creek's numbers but coach Jim Flanigan will have a strong team again.
“Depth is very important when a team is trying to win a state title,” said Flanigan. “You gain points at every position and if you only have a few quality players at the top then you cannot get enough points even if you win the top couple positions.
“It is very hard to match Cherry Creek's depth due to the size of the school and the amount of indoor facilities that feed into the school.”
Flanigan, however, is not daunted.
“As a coach you have to prepare your kids to win a state championship because that is the goal,” he said. “This year we have the same opportunity as Cherry Creek to win a state championship and we need to take advantage of that and believe in ourselves.”