If Saturday was any indication, it’s setting up for one heck of a shootout next month at the Class 4A State Tennis Tournament at Topeka.
The four best teams in Class 4A, according to the Kansas Coaches Association, were in the field for the Tournament of Champions hosted by Wichita Collegiate.
Class 4A flashed its power and depth as it recorded four of the top five finishes, with the only interruption a third-place standing by 6A Maize.
McPherson High’s No. 1-ranked Bullpups were handed their first loss of the season by Collegiate, but it was by a narrow two points. Independence, the No. 3 team in 4A, took fourth and Hayden, the No. 4-ranked team, was fifth.
This was a 20-team field that included many bigger-class schools, so even though his team took second to Collegiate, MHS coach Tyler Brown wasn’t all that disappointed. In fact, it could serve as a motivator for the Bullpups, who probably are the deepest team of all the contenders when you look at players 1-6.
MHS and Collegiate have been together at other tournaments this year, but often the Spartans haven’t brought their complete lineup for whatever reason. But Saturday was the best of the best and it included a field that will be even better than the 4A meet in May.
MHS has two quality singles players in Jarrod Nowak and Andrew Snell, who are incredibly gifted despite being a freshman and sophomore, respectively. Nowak and Independence’s Zack Schroeder have been waging a season-long battle as Saturday’s meeting was the third of the year, with Schroeder finally scoring his first win. All three matches have had 8-6 scores and they’re probably not done with each other. If they both win regional championships as expected, they’ll probably be the Nos. 2 and 3 seeds at state, battling for the right to face Hayden’s three-time state champion and prohibitive favorite Tommy Hunter in the finals.
Schroeder beat Snell last year for third place at state and the Bullpup sophomore has only gotten better this year by going up against Nowak every day in practice.
What may decide the state title is doubles. McPherson’s No. 1 team of Nolan Schrader and Kento Aizawa took third place at Collegiate and both were in state finals last year. Schrader won the state title with the graduated Gallagher Martin, while Aizawa took second with the graduated Luke Williams. Schrader and Aizawa have combined forces this year and while singles looks to be Hunter and then everybody else fighting for second, doubles is a wide-open division. Collegiate is strong in doubles and the teams from back East — i.e., Miege — generally have some good doubles.
MHS’ No. 2 team of Kaden Stewart and Hadley Hageman are quality as well. In fact, how they finish at state could decide the final outcome as they’re a wild-card.
MHS and Collegiate will knock heads before state as they will be in the league meet, as AVCTL Division III and IV are combined.
The Bullpups have one meet before then, as they compete Tuesday at Hesston, though the meet is tentative given the forecast for extreme weather. Hesston is the No. 1 team in Class 3-2-1A and the field also includes several of the top smaller-school teams in Kansas.
Give Brown and the Bullpups credit, they have played a schedule that has prepared them well. Every meet this year has been loaded with ranked teams and that only makes the team better heading into May.