Kapaun tennis player Clara Whitaker can’t ask for a much better start than she’s had to freshman year. Whitaker was crowned the Class 5A singles champion on Sunday afternoon at Maize South’s tennis courts.
Whitaker’s opponent in the final was someone she is very familiar with, Bishop Carroll’s Brittany Steven. Whitaker won the match 4-6, 6-2, 6-2.
“This was our sixth time playing each other this year,” Whitaker said. “Every match I play against her is so good. Every time we go on the court we kind of ask each other how many times we’ve played each other now.”
The two put on a show in the championship match on a cool and windy day.
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“She is very good at her forehands and backhands,” Steven said. “I just tried to keep the ball up high and get her off of her game.”
Steven, a junior, finished fourth in 5A a year ago and lost to Issa Sullivan from De Soto in the third-place match. Steven was able to get avenge that loss, eathing Sullivan in the semifinals on Saturday. Whitaker was in a battle with St. James Academy’s Catherine Rieke in her semifinal match when play was halted Saturday. Whitaker came out strong on Sunday and pulled off a 6-2, 2-6, 6-2 victory over Rieke.
“I think I got really down on myself in the second set yesterday,” Whitaker said. “I was just mentally frustrated with myself. If we would have kept playing yesterday then I probably would have lost. It was nice to have the rest of the afternoon and evening to regroup and gather myself mentally so that I was able to have a fresh start this morning.”
In the final, Steven won four of the first five games. After Steven won three straight games, Whitaker broke Steven’s serve and grabbed the momentum.
“I really like playing Clara,” Steven said. “She is really good and challenges me to become a better player. I took the first set today and played pretty good, but then she was the better player the rest of the match. I could tell that she was getting more confident as the first set went on.”
Whitaker battled back in the second set, winning the final four games to force a third set.
“I was feeling really confident going into that third set,” Whitaker said. “The first two sets were really good. We both made some great shots and the points were well earned on both sides.”
Whitaker carried the momentum into that final set, as she won the set 6-2 in front of a lively crowd.
“I really liked the crowd,” Whitaker said. “I can get really down on myself and all, but I like when the crowd cheered, because that gave me some more confidence in myself.”
“These past three days have been crazy,” Whitaker said. “I’ve just been so anxious and nervous, because all of these players are so good and all the matches were tough.”
Kapaun’s team of Kelly House and Eleanor Baldwin won the doubles title with a 7-6 (8-6) 6-3 win over Carroll’s Brayden Steven and Lauren Steven.
“I think that tennis is really evolving in the area,” Brittany Steven said. “There is so much talent around here and it’s awesome to see that we can all compete with some of the schools from the Kansas City area.”
Team scores: 1. St. James, 37; 2. Bishop Carroll, 33; 3. Kapaun, 30; T4. Maize, 19; T4. Mill Valley, 19; 6. Salina Central, 16; 7. Newton, 13; 8. De Soto, 12; 9. Maize South, 11; 10. Goddard, 10.
Singles: 1. Whitaker, Kapaun, def. Steven, Carroll, 6-4, 6-2, 6-2; 3. Rieke, St. James, def. Sullivan, De Soto, 7-5, 6-4, 6-1; 5. Lecuru, Mill Valley, def. LeFevre, Goddard, 9-5; 7. Taylor, St. James, def. Williams, Maize, 9-1; 9. Fischer, Blue Valley SW, def. Smart, Aquinas, 9-5.
Doubles: 1. House-Baldwin, Kapaun, def. Steven-Steven, Carroll, 7-6, 8-6, 6-3; 3. Normai-Rhodes, Newton, def. Stack-Holgerson, Salina Central, 6-3, 6-1; 5. Queen-Fields, Maize South, def. Bierbaum-Devine, De Soto, 9-3; 7. Binau-Sharp, Valley Center, def. Schaffer-Roy, Mill Valley, 9-3; 9. Adams-Cunningham, Maize, def. Coleman-McAdoo, Salina South, 9-8.