Discovery Canyon girls' tennis continues evolution into area power

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Photo - Discovery Canyon's Mattie Kuntzelman returns a shot to Cheyenne Mountain's Daniela Adamczyk during the No. 2 Singles championship match for the 4A girls tennis state finals at the Pueblo City Park Tennis Complex on Saturday, May 14, 2016. Photo by Stacie Scott, The Gazette.
Discovery Canyon's Mattie Kuntzelman returns a shot to Cheyenne Mountain's Daniela Adamczyk during the No. 2 Singles championship match for the 4A girls tennis state finals at the Pueblo City Park Tennis Complex on Saturday, May 14, 2016. Photo by Stacie Scott, The Gazette.

They're not quite there, yet.

But to think that four years ago, the fledgling girls' tennis program at Discovery Canyon accomplished a program first by qualifying its first player, Gabriella Hesse, into the 4A state tournament.

These days, it's not just getting there and just being happy, but getting there and making some noise.

And that's what the Thunder did last year with state qualifiers in five of the seven positions en route to a program-best third-place finish.

Now that Hesse and four of her senior teammates graduated, it's time for the next crop to step up as the Thunder look forward to continuing their upward trend.

"Just having one great player like Gabriella gave everyone else someone to look up to," seventh-year Thunder coach Brian Thirkell said. "It got everyone excited, and it helped the program get better. It's tough to lose those seniors, but we still have a lot of experienced players who have experience at state."

Leading the youth movement is sophomore Mattie Kuntzelman, who won the program's first state championship when she claimed the No. 2 singles crown in May at Pueblo City Park.

Hunter Jones, another freshman, was part of Discovery Canyon's No. 2 doubles team that fell in the state final. The No. 1 doubles team of Lizzie McCurdy, a junior, and Sydney Smith, a sophomore, advanced to the semifinals.

"We had a great season and are very proud to have our program's first state champ," Thirkell said. "And we also had two state finalists and two state semifinalists, and they're all back and getting better."

As the enrollment splits were adjusted for the addition of 3A, 4A has a much more local flavor with the addition of former 5A squads Pine Creek, Rampart, Liberty and Coronado.

As a result, Discovery Canyon was selected to host the 4A Region 1 tournament, May 3-4 at The Club at Flying Horse, as opposed to two days of travel in years past.

"4A has two regions now, and we're very lucky to be moving out of the region we were in with Kent Denver and Valor Christian," Thirkell said. "It's still going to be a tough region with Air Academy and Pine Creek, among others, but we're glad to get the chance to host a regional."

But before that happens, Thirkell will have to figure out his lineup with the conclusion of challenge matches before the season opener Tuesday against Lewis-Palmer.

And much of the action centers on Kuntzelman, and if she's in line to step in to Hesse's shoes as the team's No. 1 singles player

"She stood out as one of our captains," Thirkell said. "She wants to be our No. 1 player, but also wants to be the best she can be, and she laid the groundwork by what she did last year. I'm very excited that she's had that much success early on, but with our depth, we're not just counting on her. Being able to have all of our players and teams to contribute points is big. We didn't have that before."