The Pueblo West girls tennis program had long been the gold standard for tennis programs in the region, as proven by four top-five state finishes from 2014-17.
But last season, the gold was buffed out of the program as it fell short of a South-Central League title for the first time in nearly a decade, losing out to Pueblo County, which dealt a decisive 7-0 blow during S-CL dual play.
This year, head coach Sam Pisciotta said, the team plans to not only wrest that title back for the west side, but also compete for a regional championship.
"They're undoubtedly the ones to beat," Pisciotta said of County. "I think we have a better team (this year) and we'll put up a better fight. But one dual can't be our focus. The main goal is winning our region and qualifying all of our girls to state."
A reason for Pisciotta's cautious optimism is the team's depth.
Despite losing its top singles player, Chelsey Cosby, to graduation, he said that his top four or five players are neck-and-neck with one another in terms of talent. Challenge matches for those top singles positions, he said, were fierce.
"Our depth is better this year," Pisciotta said, "and the singles players are going to be tougher. With parity among our top four or five players, it depends on if it's at a low level or a high level, but I think it's high."
Sophomore McKenna Lough, a two-doubles player last season, will take up the two-singles spot this year while junior Elyssa Mielke will hold down the three-singles spot a season after playing on the Cyclones' one-doubles team.
Both have improved their games dramatically, Pisciotta said.
"(Lough) has been playing yearround and really worked hard on her game," he said, "and (Mielke and one-singles player Alyssa Stevenson) worked out a lot together all year."
Stevenson, a junior who played two-singles last season, takes over the vaunted one-singles spot this season. She knows competition will be fierce.
"I'm just going to do my best," Stevenson said, "and play defensively. (Other one-singles players) are going to be good, and I just need to be more consistent to keep up with everybody else."