Coming into the season, the Kansas City Christian boys tennis team didn’t have especially high expectations.
With six seniors gone from last year’s team, including the duo that had won the 3-2-1A doubles title, coach Brian Miller knew his squad would be gaining fresh experience as the year wore on. The Panthers didn’t crack the state rankings at any point. And when their top singles player Owen Vander Ark suffered a serious ankle injury about three weeks ago, their hopes of a push at the state tournament seemed even more remote.
But some timely moments of brilliance from the Panthers at this weekend’s 3-2-1A state tournament in Wichita earned Kansas City Christian the boys tennis crown for the year. With the girls team’s win this fall — an achievement that marked the first-ever state title for any KCC girls team — the Prairie Village-based school now holds a sweep over the 3-2-1A tennis titles.
“The girls championship meant so much because it was the first time any girls team from KCC has brought home a championship in any sport,” said Miller. “But, the girls championship was not a surprise. We had been ranked number one for the entire year. The boys championship was a complete surprise. We weren’t ranked all year until an honorable mention the last two weeks.”
Miller said he had the feeling his team might have something special in store about a month ago.
“Things started to click,” he said. “My doubles players really started to gel, and my singles players began to strike the ball with more confidence.”
After Vander Ark’s injury forced him to sit out the final two weeks of the regular season, Miller said, the rest of the team worked to fill the absence.
“The rest of the team really stepped up in his absence, and it truly made our team that much stronger,” Miller said.
Vander Ark advanced to the championship match in the singles bracket, falling to Independent’s Bryson Toubassi. KCC’s Caleb Kern finished tenth in singles. And Brayden Kern and Joe Schmidt finished fourth in doubles, giving the Panthers a one point edge over Claflin in the team standings.
“This means so much to KCC,” Miller said. “To win both championships in the same year is amazing. Especially considering the core of both teams are freshmen and sophomores, which puts a little pressure on us for next year. But this is the kind of pressure these kids seem to thrive under.”
Local 6A state tennis team results
SM East finished second place in the team standings in the 6A tournament held in Topeka over the weekend, finishing two points behind champion Blue Valley West.
The doubles team of Blake Eason and Jack Fenton advanced to the championship match, but fell to a team from Blue Valley Northwest. Hayden Leatherwood and Jacob Tilton finished fifth in the doubles standings. In singles, the Lancers’ top player Billy Louiselle finished fifth overall.
SM Northwest’s Nam Pham had the best showing among singles players, finishing third in the individual standings.