The man of the hour stood back from the fray, reluctant to join the spotlight, even though all eyes at the Harmon Park Tennis Complex were fixed on him.
Collegiate coach Dave Hawley never wanted any of his state championships to be about him, but it’s hard to ignore when you win your 50th state championship as Hawley did on Saturday afternoon, as the Spartans won the Class 4A team title with — you guessed it — 50 points.
“He is Kansas tennis,” Hawley’s long-time assistant Janet Glaser said.
“We love our coach,” Collegiate senior Matt Regehr said. “It means a lot to us that we could be the ones to win No. 50 for him.”
Hawley was both touched and embarrassed when Glaser tried to wrangle onto his head a hat that had “Champ 50.”. He refused to accept the trophy, instead insisting the team’s four seniors hold it and stand in the center of the 50th championship picture he’s taken.
And when asked after the ruckus had died down, of course Hawley would insist this day wasn’t about his accomplishment.
“Fifty is not even a number I can describe,” Hawley said. “This is for all of the kids that have played for me over the years, boys and girls, whether they went to state or not. We had 51 boys out for tennis this spring and this is for every one of them because they’re a large part of what we do. They still come to every practice and go to all the matches. It’s just these six are the ones who represent us here.”
The fact he kept 51 players is part of the reason why Hawley has been so successful, according to Glaser, who has been with him with the Collegiate boys for the last 18 years.
“He has a no-cut policy and he values every single player, whether they can barely hit the ball over the net or whether they’re like the championship match you just watched,” Glaser said. “He puts that same intensity into every player. Fifty-one is a big number to manage, but he made sure they all felt valued and they all got playing time. He’s just a great coach and a great guy.”
When assessing his success, Hawley is modest.
“Many of the coaches here are smarter than me, they just didn’t land in the situation I did and I’m fully aware of that,” Hawley said, laughing.
Collegiate advanced all four of its entries through to the quarterfinals and three to the semifinals, although it completed the team championship without winning in singles or doubles.
Lakelin Conrad was dominant in the first set of his championship match against Bishop Miege’s Will Grier, playing crisply, hitting big, and connecting on just about everything he tried in a 6-1 victory. But fatigue and cramping would prove to be his downfall, as Grier’s steadiness would win out in a 1-6, 6-2, 6-3 victory.
Collegiate’s doubles team of Ben Murphy and Max Wheeler also advanced to the finals, but lost in straight sets to McPherson’s Nolan Schrader and Kaden Stewart 6-3, 6-1. Easton Ewy finished seventh in singles and the doubles team of Austin Gartner and Matt Regehr finished third after losing to Schrader and Stewart in the semifinals.
“We knew we were going to have our core of four seniors (Murphy, Gartner, Regehr, and Ewy) and then Lakelin, so to have Max come in and solidify us in doubles was huge,” Hawley said. “We would not have been the team we were without Max.”
The seniors were honored to be a part of Hawley’s 50th championship team, but they needed some help to get there — the girls team had to win title No. 49 in the fall.
“We had to make sure the girls didn’t do something silly and not win theirs, so we would get to be 50,” Ewy said. “When they did their part, we knew we had to do our part.”
Hawley refused to discuss the potential milestone with anyone this season.
But after Saturday, when the results were finalized, Hawley was able to finally reflect on the achievement. He’s still not taking credit.
“I told my boys all season they’re playing for one title and that’s their title, this year,” Hawley said. “Any other accomplishment that happens beyond that, that’s fine. But we had just one goal this season and the kids accomplished it and I’m very, very proud of them.”
McPherson’s doubles wins title — Since Nolan Schrader won the Class 4A doubles championship as a freshman two years ago, he’s left a place on the wall in his room for another championship bracket.
After losing in the finals last year, Schrader won the championship bracket on Saturday with his third partner — Kaden Stewart — in three years. The pair of juniors defeated Collegiate’s Ben Murphy and Max Wheeler in straight sets, 6-3, 6-1, in the championship.
“It’s going to feel really good to finally be able to hang up another one right next to (the first),” Schrader said.
Schrader and Stewart were outstanding throughout the season, but really gelled over the course of the last month. Stewart, taller and lankier, found success being the steady force on the team, while Schrader excelled in hitting the winners.
“I think we were at our best when I would be able to work my serve to get to his volley,” Stewart said. “Whenever I can set him up at the net, then that’s awesome.”
The duo didn’t drop a set the entire weekend, although it did survive a tiebreaker in the first set in the semifinals against Collegiate’s other doubles team of Austin Gartner and Matt Regehr.
“I don’t know if (my) experience in the championship match really mattered, I think it was more about playing over the summer and just putting yourself in pressure situations as much as you can,” Schrader said. “I think that’s only going to make yourself a better player because when it comes to crunch time, then you’re going to perform better.”
Teams: Collegiate 50, McPherson 38, Independence 29, Bishop Miege 16, Abilene 12, Andover Central 12, Parsons 12, Buhler 11, Trinity Academy 10, Topeka Hayden 8, Maize South 7, Wellington 7, Paola 6, Smoky Valley 6, Bonner Springs 5, Scott City 5, Chanute 2, Colby 2, Winfield 2, Haven 1, Baldwin 1.
Singles: 1. Grier, Miege, def. Conrad, Collegiate, 1-6, 6-2, 6-3; 3. Snell, McPherson, def. Dixit, Parsons, injury default; 5. Schroeder, Independence, def. Nowak, McPherson, 9-6; 7. Ewy, Collegiate, def. Bass, Independence, 9-4; 9. Edwards, Wellington, def. Graves, Paola, 9-4; 11. Smart, Buhler, def. Brumbaugh, Smoky Valley, 9-6.
Semifinals: Grier, Miege, def. Dixit, Parsons, 6-7 (4), 7-5, 6-2; Conrad, Collegiate, def. Snell, McPherson, 6-2, 6-0.
Doubles: 1. Schrader-Stewart, McPherson, def. Murphy-Wheeler, Collegiate, 6-3, 6-1; 3. Gartner-Regehr, Collegiate, def. Bever-West, Abilene, 6-4, 6-1; 5. Reilly-Thompson, Andover Central, def. Prohaska-Kriwiel, Trinity, 9-1; 7. Hilger-Schabel, Independence, def. Federico-Sandstrom, Topeka Hayden, 9-7; 9. Jewett-Spurgeon, Maize South, 9-6; 11. Hess-Evans, Scott City, def. Hoch-Nelson, Bonner Springs, 9-7.