Two years ago, then-sophomore Rodney Steven of Bishop Carroll collected his first Class 5A state boys tennis championship.
But Saturday, a sophomore, Brett Seaton of Olathe West, derailed Steven’s quest for a third straight title. Steven, who had beaten Seaton earlier at a tournament, 8-5, was again hampered by a torn labrum, and dropped a 6-2, 6-1 decision in the 5A final at Emporia High School.
“I’ve been struggling with the torn labrum for a little while now,” Steven said afterward. “It’s tough to get anything done.”
Had he been at 100 percent, Steven might have won again, or closed the margin at the very least.
“If I could have been at 100 percent, it would have been a great match,” he said. “He pushed me to play my best. He’s a great player.”
But the miseries of the shoulder injury manifested themselves throughout the match, and Steven’s stellar game was limited to brief glimpses.
“A few times I really got into the ball, but I can’t hit a serve (he served underhand during the 5A regional) and can’t get any rhythm going,” Steven said.
Probably the best illustration of how it affected his game came in the final game. Both parried back and forth, then Seaton’s lob seemed to hold up for a long time, giving Steven a perfect opportunity for a smash. Steven studied it as it bounced, then his smash went right into the net, giving Seaton a match point.
“It’s just one of those big points right there at the end,” Steven said. “I just felt like something was holding me back, and I couldn’t get over the hump.”
Steven finishes his Carroll career with titles in 2016 and 2017, the runner-up finish and a fourth as a freshman in 2015.
Seaton’s first title was a bit of history in itself, as his title is the first title of any kind for Olathe West, which opened last fall. Seaton is no stranger to state tournaments, however, and was the Class 6A singles runner-up last season playing for Olathe Northwest.
It was also a day of firsts for Valley Center – and it was a long time coming. The Hornets won the team title – their first-ever in a boys sport – and the first for their coach, Dean Schulz, who has coached at the school for 36 seasons.
Junior Bruno Serra of Blue Valley West defeated his twin brother, Rata, 6-3, 6-2, in the singles final after they captured doubles a year ago. Blue Valley Northwest won doubles behind freshman Brent Fallon and senior Alex Downing — their fourth straight team crown.
Collegiate senior Wonjoon Cho, a transfer from Independent, scored a 6-3, 4-6, 6-3 victory over McPherson’s Jarrod Nowak. Collegiate’s Lakelin Conrad was fifth. In doubles, McPherson seniors Nolan Schrader and Kaden Stewart won their second straight title for the Bullpups, who prevented Collegiate from a third straight team title.
Independent freshman Bryson Toubassi didn’t drop a set and lost just six games in the tournament, capping his drive with a 6-1, 6-1 triumph over Kansas City Christian’s Owen Vander Ark.