Arkansas City’s Berett Hollis tried to flip the script, but Bishop Carroll’s Rodney Steven was equal to the task.
Steven captured his second straight Class 5A boys singles tennis championship with a 7-6 (2), 6-4 triumph Saturday at Kossover Tennis Center.
This will be the last time the two play in high school, as Hollis is a senior. Steven will return next season to try for a third 5A title.
Maize, thanks to the doubles team of senior Kaden Jobe and sophomore Chase Schreiner reaching the final, emerged with the team title with 30 points. The Eagles edged Arkansas City and Carroll, which tied with 28. Ark City won the tiebreaker for second on game percentage.
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“It took the pieces,” Maize coach John Anderson said. “We didn’t win any championships, singles or doubles, but every one of those kids did a little and this is the culmination of everybody doing their part.”
The singles outcome duplicated the 2016 5A tournament, when Hollis won the regional but fell to Steven in the state final. Hollis was 5A singles champion as a freshman in 2014.
The two battled from the start Saturday, with both players struggling to hold serve. They stayed fairly even, with Steven forcing a tiebreaker at 6-6, then going on to win that 7-2 and taking the first set.
“It was really tight,” Steven said. “It could have gone either way, but I pulled it out in the tiebreak.
“(Early in the set) he was breaking me, and then I broke him, and then it was the other way around, but I got a hold of it.”
In the second set a gentle breeze became stronger, and it seemed to affect Hollis when he threw the ball in the air on his serve.
But when he didn’t, Steven’s steady play made him pay.
“A wide serve helps get to each other’s backhand,” Steven said.
Hollis was resilient, and after Steven took a 4-2 lead in the second set, Hollis won the next two games and was close to taking a 5-4 lead before Steven forced deuce and pulled out the game.
Trailing 5-4, Hollis’ struggles culminated in a double fault on match point, an unfortunate way to close his high school career.
Steven said he was able to counteract Hollis’ aggressive play.
“I just stood back,” he said. “I knew he was going to be really aggressive like how he was in regionals, so I kind of just waited for my opportunity to move in.”
Emotions – or the lack thereof – also played a big role. Steven rarely said anything on points or errors.
“Tennis is a mental game,” he said. “I just kept my cool, because if I get mad, it just keeps going downhill.”
Hollis, who will play tennis next year at UMKC, said he was troubled by the wind and the sun.
“I think the wind, and then the sun was the difference between regionals and state,” Hollis said. “We played in the middle of the day, so that affected it, too.”
He credited Steven’s game plan as well.
“(Steven) had me definitely running all over the court as well,” Hollis said. “I couldn’t get the ball where I wanted it to go, out the corners. I was hitting everything down the middle, and his forehand is so good, and he just took advantage of that.”
Team scores: 1. Maize, 30; 2. (tie) Arkansas City and Bishop Carroll, 28 (Arkansas City wins tiebreaker); 4. St. James Academy, 26; 5. Eisenhower, 23; 6. Mill Valley, 22; 7. Topeka West, 17; 8. Valley Center, 15; 9. Andover, 13; 10. (tie) Kapaun Mount Carmel and Salina South, 9; 12. Salina Central, 8; 13. Newton, 7; 14. Seaman, 6; 15. (tie) Emporia and Pittsburg, 1.
Singles: 1. Steven, Bishop Carroll, def. Hollis, Arkansas City, 7-6(2), 6-4; 3. Klassen, Arkansas City, def. Howard, Eisenhower, 6-3, 6-3; 5. Sanders, Maize, def. Howe, St. James Academy, 8-2; 7. Richardson, Andover, def. Sanders, Mill Valley, 8-3.
Doubles: 1. Shima-Rice, Topeka West, def. Jobe-Schreiner, Maize, 6-7(4), 6-5, 6-4; 3. Bock-Bergeron, Mill Valley, def. Stranghoner-Oxler, Bishop Carroll, 6-0, 6-1; 5. Anderson-McGee, Eisenhower, def. Leffer-Spradlin, St. James Academy, 8-7; 7. Klimiuk-House, Kapaun Mount Carmel, def. Brauer-Swift, Valley Center, 8-6.