Tyler Brown was just as proud of his McPherson High boys tennis team for finishing second in the state on Saturday as he was when the Bullpups won the state title in 2015.
Brown knew his Bullpups gave everything they had. They were just beaten by a better team on this weekend.
Wichita Collegiate was in control of the Class 4A State Tournament after Friday’s first round. The Bullpups had a doubles team stumble in the first round and they lost a coin flip during the pre-tournament meeting that led to freshman standout Jarrod Nowak having to play eventual four-time state champion Tommy Hunter of Hayden in the quarterfinals— earlier than expected.
But even with the outlook grim after Day One, Brown’s troops rallied with a huge second day and pulled within three points by day’s end on Saturday.
“Part way through Day One, I wasn't sure how close we would be able to stay with Collegiate, but we rallied at the end of the day and gave ourselves a chance in Day Two,” Brown said. “It was one of the most exciting tournaments I had been a part of. With only a few matches left in Day Two, we had closed the gap significantly on Collegiate and it literally was coming down to the last few matches being played. But Collegiate's doubles team playing for third place was going to control its fate on clinching the team title. Once they won that match for third it didn't matter if we won out or not, they had enough points that we could not catch them. I felt with the draw we had we couldn't have played better.”
The Bullpups’ entries all placed in the Top 10. The doubles team of Kento Aizawa and Nolan Schrader took second as they lost in straight sets to Miege’s Will Grier and John Schultz in the finals.
“Kento and Nolan did exactly what was expected of them, getting to the finals of the doubles draw. They just happened to run into a Bishop Miege team that was just on fire in the final,” Brown said.
MHS’ other doubles team of Kaden Stewart and Hadley Hageman showed a lot of grit. After being upset in the first round, they stormed back for ninth. Stewart was ninth last year at state in singles.
“Kaden and Hadley did an outstanding job of showing perseverance,” Brown said. “After losing their opening match and than fighting off a handful of match points in following match they were still able to contribute huge points to the team.”
Teammates Nowak and Andrew Snell wound up having to play each other for fifth and sixth in singles and Nowak captured that match.
“Jarrod and Andrew probably had the worst singles draw possible,” Brown said. “Jarrod had to play Tommy Hunter in the quarters, forcing him to go backside in the bracket earlier than expected. But he came through not to drop another match the rest of the tournament finishing fifth. Andrew probably had the toughest draw of any of our guys he had to play four guys that medaled in the top 10 and one more player that medaled 12th, giving him five matches of competitors that finished in the Top 12. Andrew had an outstanding tournament.”
Don’t expect much to change next year. The Bullpups lose only Aizawa to graduation, while Collegiate also returns five of its six players. The only question is whether Collegiate will be 4A or 3A, as it has walked the enrollment tightrope for many years.
If they are split up, chances are they’ll be state champions in their respective classes. If they are together, it will be a two-team race, just as it was this year.
Brown added another key to MHS’ success is assistant coach Noah Lindfors, who works tirelessly helping the team be all it can be.
“I have to thank coach Lindfors for all his time and effort to the program,” Brown said. “When you have six guys that qualify for state it is impossible to coach and watch the team by yourself as a coach because there are times that everyone is playing at the same time and at different end of the complex. So if you don't have a great coaching crew you can be truly short- handed. His knowledge and advice he brings to the table is unmatched.”