SMOKY VALLEY — These tears were about more than a state championship for Maize South junior Hunter Tucker.
He tried hard to keep a steely demeanor, but the moment was too emotional after teaming with Avery Emmert to win the doubles title at the Class 4A boys tennis tournament on Saturday in Smoky Valley.
Tucker sent out Emmert the right way in his last match, and more importantly they had captured the perfect ending to coach Sue Kallenbach's career.
"We found out earlier today that this was her last year coaching," Tucker said. "We had to win it for her."
Kallenbach felt compelled to reveal her retirement before the duo started their day in the semifinals.
"Maybe it could give them that extra little push," Kallenbach said.
Both players cited it as the motivating force behind their three-set championship victory over Winfield's Tanner Brock and Joe Albright, 7-5, 6-7 (10), 6-3.
"It adds so much to this," Hunter said. "The championship alone is nice, but to do it with all those under factors, it just makes it that much more sweet."
Smoky Valley clinched its third straight team title, punctuated by junior Quinn Dippel claiming the singles title over Hesston's Jesse Voth-Gaeddert 6-2, 6-3.
But the match of the day came when Emmert and Tucker met the Winfield duo again, previously losing to them 8-5 in the regular season.
Brock and Albright won five of the last six games in the second set, including a 12-10 tiebreaker, to force a decisive third set.
After splitting the first six games, Maize South took control in the crucial seventh game that went to extra points.
Tucker made the play of the match when he lunged to save a ball and lobbed it high in the air. When the ball landed in, it caught Winfield's Albright off-guard and Maize South eventually won the point and the match — winning the final two games without losing a point.
"I had my eyes closed and my face up against the fence," Tucker said. "It was a lucky shot, but I really think it was the turning point of the match."
Added Winfield's Brock: "That was my last match, so it definitely hurts right now... it will leave a mark on you."
Even Emmert, normally reserved and stone-faced, felt the magnitude of the moment when he walked to the sideline after winning and saw his coach and parents tearing up.
"Seeing that... kind of made me sad," Emmert said. "I have a cold feeling right now, I don't know why."
The day became more than just a quest for a state title. It became a mission to end the career of Kallenbach the right way.
"This means everything," Kallenbach said. "You don't coach for the big bucks. You coach for the relationships that you develop with these terrific young men. I couldn't ask for more."
At Smoky Valley
Team scores—Smoky Valley 35, Hesston 27, Topeka Hayden 26, Winfield 22, Maize South 19, Independence 18, Wellington 16, Parsons 15, Buhler 13, Trinity Academy 13, Hiawatha 8, Fort Scott 8, Abilene 7, Atchison 4, DeSoto 3, St. James Academy 2, Ulysses 1, Pratt 1, Spring Hill 1, Bonner Springs 1, Baldwin 1, Coffeyville 1.
1. Quinn Dippel, Smoky Valley, def. Jesse Voth-Gaeddert, Hesston, 6-2, 6-3; 3. Blake Hunter, Topeka Hayden, def. Evan Weller, Wellington, 7-5, 6-0; 5. Chase Prewett, Trinity Academy, def. Payton Hays, Parsons, 9-6; 7. John Gernon, Hiawatha, def. Matthew Barlow, Abilene, 9-5; 9. Nick Romans, Independence, def. Jean Montane de la Roque, Topeka Hayden, 9-3; 11. Evan Wheeler, Atchison, def. Connor Chambers, Smoky Valley, 9-5.
1. Avery Emmert-Hunter Tucker, Maize South, def. Tanner Brock-Joe Albright, Winfield, 7-5, 6-7 (10), 6-3; 3. Seth Nelson-Koltin Howard-Talbott, Smoky Valley, def. Alex Hill-Nick Wilson, Buhler, 6-2, 6-2; 5. Gavin Webster-Tyler Posch, Independence, def. Keenan Jensen-Michael Oyer, Hesston, 9-7; 7. Colton Grillot-Kyle Altic, Fort Scott, def. Chris Bishop-Paul Flynn, Topeka Hayden, 9-5; 9. Tucker Hoover-Sam Camp, Winfield, def. Parker Robertson-John Paul Hurley, Parsons, 9-4; 11. Brian Peck-Derek Pettegrew, Wellington, def. Keith Hoover-Nathan Slater, DeSoto, 9-8 (3).