Every state tennis champion in Class 5A came out of one regional tournament.
The Wichita area showed its girls tennis dominance Saturday at the state tournament Saturday in Emporia. Bishop Carroll took home the team title. Kapaun sophomore Clara Whitaker won her second singles championship. And Arkansas City’s Kelsie Burr/Jacey Arnett won doubles.
Here are their stories:
‘Plenty of reasons’
Kelsie Burr struggled to fight back the tears.
Burr, an Arkansas City senior, and her doubles partner junior Jacey Arnett had just won the 5A doubles title with a 6-4, 6-4 win over Bishop Carroll’s Lauren Steven/Paige Stranghoner. After the match, she pulled up her sleeve and revealed why it was so emotional.
“About a year ago this summer, one of our assistant coaches passed away, Anthony Brantley,” she said. “I always wear my bracelet for him. He had an unexpected heart emergency. The bracelet says, ‘Embrace the process.’ That was always his saying.
“He always believed in me from day one. He knew that I had potential even on my down days.”
Burr said she was playing for Brantley on Saturday, but he wasn’t the only one.
“We’re also playing for Chloe today,” Arnett said, referring to a teammate who is ill and hospitalized.
As if that weren’t enough motivation, Arnett said there was still someone else.
“Coach Shaw, too,” she said, honoring the former Winfield tennis coach who recently died of cancer.
Burr and Arnett split with their state final opponents during the regular season, including a loss at the Wichita Collegiate Tournament of Champions.
Arnett said getting a win when it mattered most was especially poignant.
“You just got to put the ups and downs together,” she said. “And hope for the best.”
For Burr, this is her second state title with the Bulldogs and her first since 2016.
“We knew we were going to have to fight for it,” Burr said. “It’s just amazing to go out on top.”
No Bishop Carroll player will go home with an individual championship Saturday night, but that doesn’t matter.
The Golden Eagles captured their school’s first state championship of the 2018-19 school year, snagging the 5A team title from reigning champion St. James Academy and City League rival Kapaun. None and all were champions.
Senior Brittany Steven finished runner-up to Kapaun sophomore Clara Whitaker for the second straight year, losing 6-1, 6-0.
Senior Brayden Steven came in fourth, losing to Kapaun freshman Reagan Boleski in the third-place match 6-3, 6-1.
And senior Lauren Steven/sophomore Paige Stranghoner were a match short of a state title after being paired midseason, falling to Arkansas City’s Kelsie Burr/Jacey Arnett in the state final.
No one was too down after the tournament wrapped up though.
“Just looking at our chances coming in, we were like,’Yeah, we could win individually, but we have so many seniors, and the chance of us all winning individually is not going to happen,’ ” Lauren Steven said. “We realized the best way for us to all share this joy was to go for a team win.”
Last year, Carroll was runner-up in the team standings to St. James Academy. The Golden Eagles were four points short. Steven said the the Golden Eagles knew they had to rely on their depth rather than trying to win individual titles.
That came to a head at their regional tournament.
In what turned out to be the deepest regional in Kansas, Carroll qualified all six potential players, including its second doubles team of sophomore Vanessa Steven/senior Lauren Esfeld. Coach Darren Huslig, who won his first team title in six tries, said that was the difference.
“The teams that have been able to win at state have been the teams that have gotten the most people there,” he said. “You can do well in one thing, but you got to have all the people representing.”
Shooting for 4
The goal was set two years ago, and she is still on track.
Kapaun sophomore Clara Whitaker came into high school with a goal of winning four state championships. She picked up her second in two tries with a 6-1, 6-0 win over Carroll’s Brittany Steven on Saturday.
Whitaker was the most dominant player — singles or doubles — at the Class 5A tournament. She got to her offense early and often and held her opponents back throughout the bracket, losing just three games in four matches.
“I had a lot of motivation,” she said. “I was really pumped up, and I really wanted to win. I really wanted to end my season really well and have a good match.”
With the state championship, Whitaker capped a 31-1 season with the Crusaders. Her only loss came in the Wichita Collegiate Tournament of Champions final against 6A state champion Chloe Kuckleman.
Saturday’s final was a rematch from last year. As a freshman, Whitaker beat Steven 4-6, 6-2, 6-2. But Saturday was just the sophomore’s day.
“I can’t really believe it happened,” she said. “It’s still all just processing.”
Chloe Kuckelman (Blue Valley North) def. Ashley Jacobson (Olathe West) 6-0, 6-0
Ellie Kuckelman (Blue Valley North) def. Gabby Lee (Blue Valley)
Gabby Lee (Blue Valley) def. Ashley Jacobson (Olathe West)
Chloe Kuckelman (Blue Valley North) def. Ellie Kuckelman (Blue Valley North) 6-4, 6-4
Callie Flanagan/Christine O’Brien (Blue Valley North) def. Divya Gupta/Tatum Trysla (Blue Valley North) 6-1, 6-1
Gwyn Gifford/Olivia Kurzban (Blue Valley West) def. Lucy Kendall/Bridget Epstien (Shawnee Mission East) 6-4, 6-5
Divya Gupta/Tatum Trysla (Blue Valley North) def. Lucy Kendall/Bridget Epstien (Shawnee Mission East)
Callie Flanagan/Christine O’Brien (Blue Valley North) def. Gwyn Gifford/Olivia Kurzban (Blue Valley West)
Clara Whitaker (Kapaun) def. Brayden Steven (Bishop Carroll) 6-0, 6-2
Brittany Steven (Bishop Carroll) def. Reagan Boleski (Kapaun) 6-3, 6-3
Reagan Boleski (Kapaun) def. Brayden Steven (Bishop Carroll) 6-3, 6-1
Clara Whitaker (Kapuan) def. Brittany Steven (Bishop Carroll) 6-1, 6-0
Lauren Steven/Paige Stranghoner (Bishop Carroll) def. Tara Devine/Gabbi Taylor (St. James Academy)
Kelsie Burr/Jacey Arnett (Arkansas City) def. Taylor Bruce/Ceanna Allen (McPherson) 7-6(6), 6-2
Tara Devine/Gabbi Taylor (St. James Academy) def. Taylor Bruce/Ceanna Allen (McPherson) 6-2, 6-2
Kelsie Burr/Jacey Arnett (Arkansas City) def. Lauren Steven/Paige Stranghoner (Bishop Carroll) 6-4, 6-4
Semifinals postponed to Monday in Topeka because of rain
Lilly McNeill (KC Christian) def. Lily Perrin (Sacred Heart) 6-0, 6-1
Emily Ryan (Central Plains) def. Halle Krehbiel (Hesston) 6-1, 6-2
Lilly Perrin (Sacred Heart) def. Halle Krehbiel (Hesston) 6-2, 6-7 (5-7), 6-1
Lilly McNeill (KC Christian) def. Emily Ryan (Central Plains) 6-4, 6-3
Juliet Bartels/Emily Arnold (KC Christian) def. Kara Koester/Karlee Osner (Conway Springs) 4-6, 6-3, 6-1
Kylie Martin/Michaela Martin (Hesston) def. Jasmine Bates/Lydia Miller (Sterling) 6-3, 5-7, 6-3
Kara Koester/Karlee Osner (Conway Springs) def. Jasmine Bates/Lydia Miller (Sterling) 6-2, 6-2
Kylie Martin/Michaela Martin (Hesston) def. Juliet Bartels/Emily Arnold (KC Christian) 6-0, 6-4