As the Wichita East girls' tennis regional played out its final matches, Washburn Rural held practice.
On the far west courts, the Lady Blues calmly played a friendly game, staring down teammates across the net. Few would have known they were playing for titles.
Washburn Rural steamrolled the field, taking every slot in the championship round to qualify its entire team for the 6A state tournament, and hoisting the regional title in the process.
Lady Blues Head Coach Kevin Hedberg was satisfied with the sweep, but kept a level head assessing the team's priorities for state.
“It's so unusual, that I don't think our girls have ever done that,” Hedberg said. “I'm really happy for them, but don't kid yourself – the two regionals east of us are stronger than we are, so we're still going to have to really show up and play well to make a good showing.”
Washburn Rural cruised in singles behind Madeline Hill. Hill dropped one game throughout four matches, waltzing to the singles title. She knocked out teammate Mackenzie Hill 6-0, 6-0 in the finals.
“Me and Mackenzie are really, really good friends. It's refreshing to play someone you know,” Madeline said. “I think I focused on every point well and took every match seriously.”
Madeline was fourth a year ago at state. Behind a stinging serve and precision returns, she is primed for a breakout.
“I'm nervous but excited for it,” she said. “I'm going to try to get third – better, at least.”
In doubles, Rural's Irene Nicolae and Malaina Piyassaphan tripped up teammates Maria Stoica and Alex Welch in the title round 6-4, 6-0.
Derby finished second to Rural as a team, but in the process, made its own mark. The Panthers had never earned a regional tennis plaque in school history.
Highlighting Derby's performance was the freshmen duo of Kenzie Hughes and Bailey Farris. The pair won a marathon match with a tiebreaker to take third over Topeka's Kimberly Buzbee and Raianna Maples.
Hughes and Farris beamed with jubilation after the triumph.
“I think we came into the season not thinking we'd have a chance. We started to get this chemistry and we did awesome together,” Hughes said. “We're learning from each other, really.”
The doubles team made great strides throughout the season. Hughes' height and athleticism proved a perfect compliment to Farris' creativity in shot selection and ability to cover the court.
“Really happy,” Farris said. “I think we expected to qualify for state, but not third.”
In singles action, Kenzie's older sister Morgan fended off Manhattan's Kristen Fraley 6-0, 6-2 for third.
Topeka's Whitney Holloman and Manhattan's Cathy Lei rounded out the state qualifiers, with Holloman taking the fifth place match. The top six placers in singles and doubles qualify for the state tournament.
Wichita East's Erin Courington and Alea Surender topped Wichita Heights' Becca King and Sofia De La O for fifth in doubles.
The 6A state meet is Friday and Saturday in Prairie Village.