WINFIELD — Even by the multi-tasking Hortons’ standards, Saturday was a full day.
They got up, went out and polished off two opponents to win the Class 4A doubles state championship, then got in a car and raced back home in time to take part in graduation exercises.
Not a bad day at all.
Ryan and Peter Horton became the ninth state doubles champions in the Bullpups’ historic boys tennis lineage, with the last being their brother Cory along with Max Pyle in 2011. MHS has been on quite a doubles roll, as Mark Gayer and Nathan Wehrman won state titles back-to-back in 2009 and 2010.
The Hortons accomplished the feat by nearly bageling Independence’s brother duo of Sam and Josh Hilger in the finals, 6-1, 6-0, after having knocked off what turned out to be their most serious challengers, Cameron Davis and Jacob Thompson of Andover Central, 6-4, 6-2, in the semifinals.
Davis and Thompson won the third-place match 6-2, 5-7, 6-3 over MHS’ No. 2 doubles team of Dylan Stos and Luke Williams, who acquitted themselves quite admirably in the tournament after being a second-place regional finisher.
Along with a nice contribution from singles player Kento Aizawa, who was 12th after pushing Buhler’s Evan Schmidt to a tiebreaker in his final match before losing, the Bullpups scored 34 points to take home the second-place plaque, trailing only Topeka Hayden. The Wildcats had a 1-2 singles finish from brothers Tommy and Blake Hunter, and their doubles entry was 11th as they totaled 39 points. Independence claimed the other plaque with 29 points for third.
“I truly felt this team reached their potential,” MHS coach Tyler Brown said. “They played outstanding and I’m extremely proud to be a part of what these boys accomplished this past season.”
While the Hortons capped an unforgettable year, so did Brown.
He guided the MHS girls to the state title in the fall, then having to follow in the footsteps of the legendary Doug Gayer this spring after his retirement, he saw his Bullpups respond with a second-place standing.
“I have had a blessed and unbelievable year,” Brown said. “In the fall it started with winning state with the high school girls team, followed by an undefeated eighth-grade boys basketball team and being named (Kansas) Middle School Coach of the Year, then topping it off with a runner-up boys season. I feel like I'm still on Cloud 9.”
Brown had maintained all year that the Horton twins (33-6) would win the state title as their season-long resume was punctuated by playing strong teams. By defeating the Independence team in the finals, that avenged a loss for their former teammates Pyle and Ben Davidson, who lost in the state finals last year to the Independence team of Gavin Webster and Tyler Posch in a terribly heart-breaking match the Bullpups appeared on the brink of winning.
“I always felt the Horton twins would roll to a doubles state title, it’s just in their blood and family pedigree,” Brown said.
The Horton family has plenty to celebrate. Matriarch Susan, sister Shelby and brother Cory all had won state championships in their athletic careers (Cory also won a state basketball championship to give him two).
The twins reigned supreme with back-to-back state titles as they also were at the epicenter of MHS’ state championship basketball season. To boot, in fall the Hortons were part of the Bullpup soccer team that just barely missed playing for the 4A state title, settling for third place.
The season of Stos and Williams should not be overlooked. They lost a close match to the Hilgers in the semis and were gutty in the third-place match since they knew the team wasn’t going to catch Hayden for the first-place plaque.
“My (No.) 2 doubles, Dylan Stos and Luke Williams were outstanding this year,” Brown said. “They finished as runners-up behind the Hortons at regionals, knocked off the (No.) 3 seed and regional champions from Bishop Miege in the quarterfinals of state and took the No. 2 seed regional champions of Independence to three sets in the semis. To finish fourth at state was outstanding.”
Aizawa had been MHS’ No. 2 singles player all season, but showed that he could be a force in the next two years since he’s just a sophomore.
“As for Kento, he has the fundamentals and good-looking strokes, I just kept telling myself that he is going to have something click to really help the team out this year and he did exactly that knocking off the (No.) 2 seed at regionals along with playing his way to Day 2 to guarantee himself a state medal and helping in team points,” Brown said.
Topeka Hayden didn’t figure to be challenged, but the Bullpups certainly made it interesting.
“Needless to say, we were right there when many I'm sure never thought to begin Day 2 at state we would be so close to putting up another banner,” Brown said. “At the end of Day One we calculated points going into Day 2 and knew we had the runner-up trophy secured. We also realized we had Topeka Hayden on the ropes at the beginning of Day 2 sweating bullets.”
Brown must face the unenviable task of replacing the Hortons and Stos, but Williams, Aizawa and Gallagher Martin-Chavez, who was one match from qualifying for state, will be a good foundation, along with some JV players who will move up to fill in the open slots.
“To be part of a community that is so strong in athletics makes it fun to be a coach,” Brown said. “I wish I could take credit for such success, but it starts with the parents that love sports and are active in so many activities with their children at such a young age. To all the parents that have kids playing in the Mac Advantage Tennis Club, to kids playing on Junior Pup teams, they truly lay a strong foundation for us coaches to than step in and polish the gems.”