In a strange turn of events, McPherson High’s boys tennis team dropped a spot in the Class 4A state rankings this week despite the fact the Bullpups had yet to play a match.
In fact, Wichita Collegiate — the No. 2 team in Class 3-2-1A last year but 4A this season — leapfrogged both MHS and then-No. 2 Independence for the top spot. The Spartans have seven of their top players back from a team that fell one point shy of Hesston last year.
As far as MHS coach Tyler Brown was concerned, it’s no big deal as he's not a big fan of self-promotion. In fact, he almost welcomes the drop even though his Bullpups were a convincing state champion last year and return four of their top six players, not to mention they’ve added one of the top freshmen in the class. He also didn’t think it had any bearing on how his team played on Monday when it tore through the McPherson Invitational against a field that included some teams that will finish high in Class 5A and 4A.
“I don’t even think they look at it (the rankings) to be honest with you,” Brown said. “In my opinion, I hope we keep going lower in the rankings, it just takes pressure off of us. If anything, it makes us hungrier. It’s like ‘let’s go prove we’re one of the best teams in the state.”
The Bullpups certainly are worthy of their high ranking, whatever it turns out to be. While they’ve made their reputation as doubles specialists, it’s singles where the team has a chance to score a huge chunk of points.
Freshman Jarrod Nowak arrived on campus this fall with a big-time reputation and that respect earned him the No. 1 seed in Monday’s McPherson Invitational. He more than lived up to it by plowing through the field in four matches, losing just three games total. He defeated sophomore teammate Andrew Snell 8-2 in the finals and all Snell did last year was place fourth in the state.
MHS has never had a state champion singles player.
Singles will be loaded this year as three-time defending champion Tommy Hunter of Topeka Hayden may be in a class by himself. Snell lost to Independence’s Zack Schroeder last year for third and he’s back. With Wichita Collegiate moving up to 4A, it certainly will have a singles player or two who’s championship worthy. So 4A singles is going to be a horse race once you get past Hunter.
The Bullpups possessed the two state doubles finalists last year with Nolan Schrader and Gallagher Martin defeating teammates Kento Aizawa and Luke Williams for the championship. Martin and Williams have graduated, which puts the sophomore Schrader and senior Aizawa together. They had some struggles early in the semifinals and finals, but drew on their experience to pull away for a pair of 8-5 wins.
Sophomore Kaden Stewart was ninth in the state in singles last year, but has moved over to doubles for now with junior Hadley Hageman. They took third place on Monday, losing to a Winfield team that was sixth at state last year.
It’s going to take both doubles teams time to mesh, but it’s a long season and improvement should be rapid. Not only does Brown have a talented team, but he’s loaded with cerebral players who also have a good temperament.
And Brown has some other players coming. His second six that entered on Monday defeated two Class 5A schools and all the entrants won two matches on the day. That makes for good competition in practice and keeps everybody on their toes.