Degrees of difficulty aren't factored into the outcomes of high school tennis tournaments. Bishop Carroll's Hillary Hicks would be pushing the envelope if they were.
Hicks' final trip to the Class 5A girls tournament has been a doozy. A third-place singles finisher last year, Hicks returned to state only because her fifth-place showing at last week's Newton regional qualified her under an expanded tournament format.
Hicks earned her ticket Friday at Riverside Tennis Center, though. She won three matches, avenging a regional loss to Andover's Mel Mehelic along the way, to advance to today's singles semifinals.
"I made it tough on myself," said Hicks, who nursed a tender left ankle after rolling it late in her 6-2, 6-4 victory over Mehelic. "I just told myself to take one match at a time. I didn't even want to look and see who I'd play in advance."
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Hicks will face top seed Natalie Looney of St. Thomas Aquinas this morning. Looney and teammate Nicole Jara, the reigning 5A singles champion, advanced to the bracket's final four to put the Saints in position to defend their team title. Salina Central, with both of its doubles entries in the semifinals, could also be a factor on the tournament's final day.
Hicks was one of two City League players to reach the semis. Kapaun Mount Carmel junior Maddie Schulte, who drew a bye into the round of 16, dropped three games in two matches to earn a matchup with Jara.
Mehelic defeated Hicks in straight sets at the regional tournament. In previous years, Hicks' regional placing would have left her one spot shy of a state berth.
But Hicks rolled past Bishop Miege's Sophie McArthur and Hutchinson's Shayla Roath on Friday, then rode the momentum to a fast start against Mehelic, a sophomore who was fourth in 4A last year.
"She didn't play the way she would have liked at regionals," Carroll coach Monica Peter said. "But our regional also had a lot of tough competition.
"Today, you could just tell she felt better and was more in a groove."
Carroll's doubles teams — Courtney Dold and Paige Lauer, and Anna Gunther and Maddie Oxler — had their title bids spoiled in the quarterfinals. But both will take aim at a fifth-place finish in today's consolation matches, as the top 12 spots will be determined in each bracket.
Hicks, meanwhile, will begin her day with a challenge against Looney, who teamed with Elizabeth Close last fall to win the 5A doubles title. Despite limping slightly in a pair of Crocs after her quarterfinal victory, Hicks said the rest of the tournament's opening day went perfectly.
"I didn't really want a bye," Hicks said. "If I'd have gotten a bye, I would have to sit forever and it would have made me more anxious."
Class 3-2-1A — Wichita Collegiate and Wichita Independent each have three spots in today's semifinals, which will make for some important matches deciding the team champion.
Independent placed junior Caroline Lincoln in the singles semifinals. Both Panthers doubles teams — Jillian Poynter and Emily Ramseyer, Radha Nagireddy and Kelsey Eklund — are also in the semifinals at Hays.
Both of Collegiate's singles entrants — Elyse Bigler and Esther Cho — reached the semifinals, along with the doubles team of sophomores Grace LeMaster and Jillian Johnson.
Class 6A — Blue Valley North took the inside track toward the 6A title, keeping all of its singles and doubles entries in the winners' bracket at Maize South. Senior Haley Fournier and junior Madison Rhyner advanced in singles, while Shea Flanagan and Shae Fournier, and Megan Schultz and Carly Sutton pushed through in doubles.
The Mustangs will see if there's strength in numbers against defending champion Shawnee Mission East. SM East's top-seeded doubles team of Mollie Cooper and Nikki Reber, and unbeaten singles sophomore Mimi Fotopoulos also advanced.
Manhattan's Andrea Kruse and Kayla Fraley kept the championship chase from being an all-Johnson County affair. Their three-set quarterfinal victory over Blue Valley West's Kaleigh Shriwise and Justine Way made them the lone winners' bracket survivors outside of the Kansas City area.
Wichita Northwest freshman Lindy Wilkerson won her first match in straight sets before losing to Fotopoulos 6-0, 6-0 in the quarterfinals.
Class 4A — Erianne Adams of Wellington reached today's semifinals in 4A tournament in Topeka.
Adams defeated Hesston's Rachael Hageman 2-6, 6-1, 13-11 in Friday's quarterfinals.
The Crusaders' doubles team of Lexis Hibbs and Kaitlyn Buck also reached the semifinals with a victory over a Smoky Valley team 6-1, 6-3.
Hesston's Stephanie Shogren and Madelyn Weaver are also in the semifinals after three Friday victories.