McPherson High’s boys tennis team started the season ranked No. 1, but more importantly it finished at No. 1.
The Bullpups completed the most dominating season in the program’s tradition-rich history on Saturday with a comfortable victory in the Class 4A State Tournament at Winfield.
The Bullpups scored 48 points to dethrone two-time defending champion and longtime nemesis Wichita Collegiate, which scored 41.
That gave the Bullpups a 10-0 record on the season, the first time in school history they have accomplished that feat.
Despite having a bullseye on their back, the Bullpups never wavered and lived up to their favorite’s billing.
Nolan Schrader and Kaden Stewart repeated as state doubles champions and for Schrader it was his third — the most in school history. He won as a freshman with Gallagher Martin and twice with Stewart. In the one year he didn’t win, he combined with Kento Aizawa to take second as he was a four-time state finalist.
Jarrod Nowak became the first Bullpup ever to make the state singles finals, losing a tough three-setter to Collegiate’s top-seed Woonjon Cho. Bullpup Andrew Snell, who lost to Cho in the semifinals, came back to take third.
Finally, a key was the play of the all-sophomore doubles team of Jackson Schrader and Rhett Edmonson, whose accomplishments were important as every point counted. They wound up taking 10th.
Bullpup coach Tyler Brown knew all season this could be something special, but his team always stayed grounded and never got ahead of itself.
“One of the most things I am proud of though is how our players are truly coachable,” he said. “You might ask yourself how I know this.....because when I watch the things we have been telling our players demonstrated by our upperclassman or other players either on court or off the court, I see them start to coach and build each other up to make each other better, which is one of the best ways to learn. That is probably one of the most rewarding things, seeing others ‘pass the buck’ or give back to make those around them or those at a earlier stage than them bring out qualities or give instruction to make them better. That in itself makes me sit back and say this season was a successful season.”
For Nolan Schrader, Snell and Stewart, they’ll go down as one of the greatest triumvirates in school history for any sport.
Here are Brown’s thoughts on each:
“Nolan stamped his name in the McPherson record books becoming the first three-time doubles state champion. Nolan also was just a couple matches shy of tying or possibly breaking Craig Holman's most wins in a high school career, but only fell short due to meet's not being finished or made up due to weather. Otherwise the record of '72-75 would have been in jeopardy.
“Andrew stepped on the high school scene and not only qualified for state, but became the highest singles finisher his freshman year and as each year went by he delivered every year not placing lower than his seed ever at state. But what impresses me the most about Andrew is not his state finishes and what he does on the court, it’s what he does with his time and how he conducts himself off the court. He is the definition of a class act!
“Kaden seems to always be so quiet and reserved, but inside he is truly fearless. He wasn't sure where he wanted to go with his game or tennis career to begin his senior year, but after he met and talked with (summer) coach (Jeremy) Nelson and myself, he found the path he wanted to take. That path was straight to the top leading Class 4A and becoming a two-time state doubles champion. I'm extremely proud how once he did find his path and direction he was all in and delivered, what a way to go out.”
Nowak, who still has one year left, rounded out what Brown often referred to as “The Big 4.”
“Jarrod has been an anchor since his freshman year,” Brown said. “Whatever the tournament coming up, you can count on him reaching at the minimum quarterfinals and semifinal matches. Jarrod the past two years has had the misfortune of having to play the No. 1 seed in the quarterfinals at the state tournament. This year he had the good fortune in his state bracket by having a stellar year. After taking care of things in the regular season he was rewarded by finally having a solid path on the draw to the first-ever McPherson boys singles final... he pushed Wonjoon Cho to his limit, barely falling short in a 3-set match.”
The big question going into state was how the second doubles entry of Edmonson and Jackson Shrader would respond. Brown knew their points would be vital as he needed them to score more points that Collegiate’s No. 2 doubles entry.
“I had never seen a team rise to the occasion of greatness like these two did this past Friday and Saturday,” Brown said. “After losing their second match of the day and looking to another matchup with Buhler and then most likely Bishop Miege, they could've let the negative thoughts bring them down. The last time they played Buhler they lost 0-8 and last time they played Bishop Miege they lost 1-8. However, they rose to the occasion beating Buhler 9-3 and then beating Bishop Miege 9-7 and sealing their fate in playing in Day 2 of state and clinching a spot as a state medalist. It will be a story I tell for future McPherson tennis players, truly unbelievable.”
The MHS tennis program resembles a corporation as there’s a lot of people involved in the success, starting with assistant coach Noah Lindfors.
“I'm sure if Noah wanted to, he could walk away and go be a head coach anytime and turn any program into one of the best in the state,” Brown said. “I'm truly blessed to have such a top-notch assistant coach. Even the middle school coaches Ricardo Sanchez and Matt Sandbo were instrumental in making our program work. We had 29 players this year and with so many players they stepped up and helped make our tournament schedule run smoothly. It was truly team effort.”
Brown also lauded the opposition, starting with Collegiate coach Dave Hawley, whose team has consistently pushed the Bullpups to reach their potential down through the years. Also, Smoky Valley coach John Bellah had a strong program in Lindsborg and provided the Bullpups with tough competition as the Vikings wound up taking third.
“Without such worthy competitors it’s awfully tough to see how much you can progress with your own team,” Brown said. “Coaches like that truly bring out the best in you and make you push your team to be the best that they can be.”
Brown also notes how the McPherson coaching tree has made him better.
“I would also like to thank Hall of Fame coaches in McPherson that have showed me or been part of my own journey in my coaching career,” Brown said. “Many people don't know this but right after I graduated from Tabor College, (MHS soccer coach) Jim Post gave me my first opportunity to coach at the high school level and showed me how to run a successful program. But after leaving for Florida, I spent four years teaching and coaching down south before coming back home and working with Hall of Fame Coach (Doug) Gayer. He was the next person to influence me by giving me a chance to make my own imprint at McPherson High School. Lastly, from me being a middle school basketball coach.... Coach Kinnamon, another future Hall of Fame coach, has also taken me along with the high school coaches to clinics and shown me how he makes his program truly successful. I am truly blessed to have had so many Hall of Fame coaches involved in my career to mold me to make me who I am.”
Brown knows replacing his three key seniors (as well as seniors Aaron Carlson and manager Ryan Ronsse) will be impossible. But Nowak will be back and most likely battling for a state singles title. Edmonson and Jackson Schrader will certainly be a top doubles team. And there’s talent coming up to keep MHS tennis strong.
But it may be a long time before the 2018 season will ever be duplicated.