It was a repeat team champion but first-time singles and doubles winners in the Class 5A State Tennis Tournament at Kossover Tennis Courts.
The Salina Central Mustangs scored 39 points to win their second straight team title, followed by Newton with 36 and Topeka Seaman with 24.
“We just have a bunch of kids who are dedicated to play all season long,” Central coach Michael Goll said. “That’s what it takes. You got to play in that off-season. They put in the time and they’re enjoying the fruits of their labors.”
Two Mustangs who are definitely enjoying the fruits of this season’s labors are junior Zachary Hampton and senior Jeffrey Michel. In 2013, they finished second behind senior teammates Justin Bengtson and Nathan Garlow. This year, Hampton and Michel ascended to the throne with a 6-1, 7-6 (0) win over senior Josh Carlgren and junior Riley Kinsley of Newton.
“I can’t speak for Jeffrey, but for me it meant a lot,” Hampton said. “Last year we were second. The year before I played the state champions in the quarters and lost a super tiebreak 9-11. It just means a lot.”
It meant a lot to Michel as well.
“We worked for it all year,” he said. “It was our turn. We played our best and did what we needed to do.”
These teams split four games this season. Newton won in the regional finals, but Salina Central took home all the marbles.
“We knew it was going to be a battle from the start,” Goll said. “Newton is just too good a team. They have nothing to hang their heads about.”
Hampton and Michel made it look easy in the first set, cruising 6-1. But the Railers made a match out of it in the second set, taking a 4-2 lead in games. The Mustangs rallied to deadlock the set at six games apiece before overwhelming Carlgren and Kinsley 7-0 in the tiebreaker.
The Railers had set point at 6-5 but couldn’t get the job done.
“When we dropped to 5-6, our big buy, Jeffrey Michel, just rose to the top,” Goll said. “Zachary is always there for us. Jeffrey, the senior, he was on top of his game. The two of them came together at the right time.”
It was no contest in the tiebreaker as Central reeled off seven straight points for the win.
“We were little bit of a slow start, but Central played great. We’ve had some great battles this year, and they made very few mistakes when it counted,” Newton coach Nick Sisson said. “We had to answer and we did – in the second set. At the end of the day, they were just a little bit tougher in the second set.”
Placing third was Pierce Carey and Matt Berneking of Salina South. They defeated Blake Jackson and Patrick Krim of St. Thomas Aquinas 6-1, 6-3.
Down by one set, Ark City‘s Berett Hollis rallied late to force a third set and win the singles title 1-6, 7-5, 6-3 over Todd Rilinger from Topeka Seaman.
“He stepped up as a freshman and played with the big boys,” Ark City coach Aaron O’Donnell said of Hollis. “He got exposed to a lot of quality players through the season. He took a few losses to some extremely quality players and he beat some, too.”
Rilinger, a senior, opened with an easy 6-1 victory. Despite that, Hollis was not fazed and knew what he had to do.
“I knew that he was going to play that same way and I just had to get more balls than him and stay in it mentally, too,” Hollis said.
After losing that first set, it took awhile for Hollis to get back into the match.
“When he was down 1-3, love 40, he was able to get that game and make it 2-3,” O’Donnell said. “That was a huge turning point, and it stayed fairly even after that.”
Hollis went on to win the set 7-5. After Rilinger pulled to within 3-2 in the third set, Hollis regained control and won 6-3.
“Berett has a way of finding his way into a match,” O’Donnell said. “He did that in the semis, too, lost the first set fairly easily, then found a way to pull it out.”
The soft-spoken Hollis was not very talkative afterward.
“Words can’t even describe how I feel,” he said with a smile.
Salina Central’s Jack Weiner captured third with a 6-0, 6-1 win over Mason Born of Kapaun Mt. Carmel.
This was the eighth team title in the past 11 years for the Mustangs, who show no signs of letting up anytime soon.
“I’ve got a good bunch of kids and a good sophomore class coming through,” Goll said. “We’ll be alright.”