McPherson High’s boys tennis team may not have a dozen-year wait between championships next time.
The Bullpups on Sunday in Pratt captured their first state title since 2003, but given the fact that four of their six players were underclassmen, MHS has at least a break-even or better chance at repeating.
Seniors who went out in style were Gallagher Martin and Luke Williams. Nobody could have foreseen what Martin accomplished, as he played doubles with freshman Nolan Schrader for the first time ever starting with the regional meet and all they did was win that, then shocked the state field by winning the championship.
Williams combined with junior Kento Aizawa to take second place in doubles, as it was a Bullpup battle to the finish in the championship match. Williams and Aizawa actually were a set up before Martin and Schrader charged back to win a pair of spine-tinglers by identical 7-5 counts.
The Bullpups received a fourth and ninth in singles from freshmen Andrew Snell and Kaden Stewart, respectively.
Who knows what riverboat gambling coach Tyler Brown will do next year. His move of combining Martin and Schrader certainly had to make the other coaches sit up and take notice. It was beyond bold and could have blown up in his face, as it takes doubles teams time to perfect their chemistry. But in the case of Martin and Schrader, it was a perfect match from the start.
With the four players back, plus some good JV players who could have been Top-6 performers for other teams, not to mention a freshman-to-be or two who could be heard from, Brown certainly can mix and match.
Schrader and Stewart were having a great year in doubles when Brown decided he needed Stewart to move over and bolster the singles ranks. They could very well be back together next year as they were 19-5 when the move was made.
Snell’s fourth-place state singles finish was the highest ever by a Bullpup. Hayden's three-time state champion Tommy Hunter will be back next year as will third-place finisher Zack Schroeder of Independence, so Snell is the third-ranking returnee.
Aizawa actually medaled in singles at the 2014 state meet, so there’s a chance he could move back over.
Bishop Miege has a couple of good young singles players who made state, but the rest of the returnees from the other schools have a ways to go to catch up.
Of course, there could have been some doubles qualifiers who will play singles next year, not to mention the unknown factor. Who at this time last year had heard of Schrader, Snell and Stewart? They hadn’t — because they were in middle school.
As far as the doubles, Independence could put together a very strong team as it returns three players. Smoky Valley’s Trapper Bellah and Nick Reinert took fifth place after being fifth at the regional and that could be a firestart for them as they have to believe they’ll be in the Final Four next year. The Vikings welcome back their other three state qualifiers as well, so look out for them.
Paola has three of its four doubles players back and also returns a good singles player. Abilene, the third-place team, loses two of its four state qualifiers, including Johnson.
Brown certainly has to like what he sees. He now has coached both the MHS boys and girls to a team title since taking over the legendary coach Doug Gayer. And with the Mac Advantage program in the summer developing more and more quality players, the Bullpups are emerging as perhaps the gold standard in 4A for the next few years.