Riley Kingsley and Shawn Bontrager proved you don’t need private lessons or to play tennis year-round to compete with the best in the state.
There is no indoor tennis facility in Newton, where the partnership was formed less than three weeks before Sunday’s finale of the Class 5A tennis championship in Goddard. They are both multi-sport athletes who enjoy playing tennis in the spring and the summer.
And that was enough to push Kingsley and Bontrager all the way to the doubles championship match on Sunday, but not past Blue Valley’s pair of Hunter Sanders and Ryan Moody.
Newton’s duo played well in the title match, serving big, blitzing forward, and controlling play at the net. But Sanders and Moody, who are year-round players, overwhelmed Kingsley and Bontrager in nearly every facet en route to a 6-3, 6-3 victory.
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“We did all we could,” Bontrager said. “I felt like we played great, but they have all the experience. They have the club tennis, and we just don’t have the facilities to do that.”
It wasn’t an excuse — Kingsley and Bontrager admitted they were out-played in the finals — but it is an obstacle that Newton coach Nick Sisson has to overcome with his program.
“We don’t have kids that take lessons in the summer,” Sisson said. “They’re just athletes. They play other sports and we just work with them some in the summer and during the season. We know what we’re up against when we come to meets like this, so for them to even get to the final we were pretty thrilled.”
Kingsley reached the championship match in doubles last season, as well, losing with then-partner Josh Carlgren, who graduated. But hopes of even playing again this season were in question when Kingsley severely injured his back during basketball season.
He didn’t return until two weeks before regionals, when Sisson decided to alter his team’s lineup and pair Kingsley with Bontrager. Inspired to return Kingsley, a senior, back to the finals, Bontrager extracted his best this weekend.
Their best match came in the semifinals, when they upended the No. 1 seed in Salina South’s Pierce Carey and Matt Berneking, who had defeated Newton for the league championship two weeks prior and entered with a sterling 35-1 record, in straight sets, 7-5, 7-6 (4).
“We beat the No. 1 seed, but I wouldn’t say it’s an upset,” Kingsley said. “We’re a really good team, too.”
“We always want to be the first ones to the net,” Bontrager added. “That doesn’t always work for some people, but that’s just the way Newton is built. We feel we can control what the point is doing when we get up there. It’s just what we do.”
It’s the same strategy they employed in the finals, but the difference was BV West’s Sanders and Moody had enough power behind their returns to make charging the net a dangerous proposition.
“They just didn’t make many mistakes,” Sisson said of BV West. “They swung for the fences and they just kept connecting.”
Although it was his second straight loss in the championship, Kingsley seemed content with what he had overcome to even reach his second straight final.
“Of course I’m a little disappointed, but I can’t be too upset,” Kingsley said. “That’s a really good team we lost to. They deserved to win, at least on this day. If we played on another day, I think we could get them.”
The final match of the day was a thriller, as Blue Valley West sophomore Max Kurzban outlasted Salina Central senior Zachary Hampton in three sets to win the singles championship, 6-4, 4-6, 6-4. The team title was also riding on the outcome of that match, as BV West (51 points) edged Salina Central (47) for the title.
Bishop Carroll Rodney Steven finished fourth in the singles field, a promising debut for the freshman. But it was a disappointing final day for Steven, who lost both of his matches on Sunday.
In the semifinals, Steven looked capable of pushing Hampton when he forced a tiebreaker in the first set. He lost it, 7-5, and struggled to respond in the second set, losing 6-0. For third place, Steven had Salina Central’s Jack Weiner down 5-1 in the third set but couldn’t stem the senior’s rally as Weiner won six straight games -- and the match.
Team scores—Blue Valley West 51, Salina Central 47, Newton 35, Pittsburg 25, Salina South 14, Bishop Carroll 12,Eisenhower 10, Maize South 10, Valley Center 10, Andover 9, Ark City 9, Mill Valley 6, St. James Academy 5, Andover Central 4, Great Bend 2, Topeka Seaman 2, Topeka West 2, Emporia 1.
1. Max Kurzban, BV West, def. Zachary Hampton, Salina Central, 6-4, 4-6, 6-4; 3. Jack Weiner, Salina Central, def. Rodney Steven, Bishop Carroll, 6-0, 3-6, 7-5; 5. Max Dechamps, Newton, def. Ian Farris, Eisenhower, 9-6; 7. Stephen Le, Andover, def. Ray Strunk, Valley Center, 9-5; 9. Logan Benham, Pittsburg, def. Adrian McAfee, Pittsburg, 9-0; 11. Zach Woods, Maize South, def. Hayden Smith, BV West, 9-2. Semifinals—Kurzban, BV West, def. Weiner, Salina Central, 6-1, 6-2; Hampton, Salina Central, def. Steven, Bishop Carroll, 7-5, 6-0.
1. Hunter Sanders-Ryan Moody, BV West, def. Riley Kingsley-Shawn Bontrager, Newton, 6-3, 6-3; 3. Pierce Carey-Matt Berneking, Salina South, def. Micah Hashman-Nick Powers, Pittsburg, 6-4, 7-5; 5. Bradley Mittleman-Hadley Cornish, BV West, def. Zach Hilbig-JD McHenry, Salina Central, 9-7; 7. Berett Hollis-Toby Beeman, Ark City, def. Adam Ford-Jerod Fox, Newton, 9-7; 9. Mason Courbot-James Michel, Salina Central, def. Alec Bergeron-Andrew Bock, Mill Valley, 9-5; 11. Jack Domnick-Cole Hardin, Maize South, def. Caleb Book-Ben Robke, St. James, 9-5. Semifinals—Kingsley-Bontrager, Newton, def. Carey-Berneking, Salina South, 7-5, 7-6 (4); Sanders-Moody, BV West, def. Hashman-Powers, Pittsburg, 7-5, 6-1.