In 2010, Kapaun tennis coach Kathy Schulte did some calculations from the 2009 state results on how her team would fare for the coming season.
“I thought we had it,” Schulte said.
Kapaun did not win in 2010. Blue Valley upset the Crusaders and extended their team championship drought to six years. Fast-forward to 2019, Kapaun is the favorite to win the state championship again.
Clara Whitaker, a rising junior already with two Class 5A singles championships under her belt, is Kapaun’s headline player. But she might face the biggest test of her career this season.
Sophomore Reagan Boleski was named the Kansas Junior Female Player of the Year last year. She finished third at state going 24-6. On paper, Boleski is Whitaker’s biggest competition in Kansas’ Class 5A.
It’s an elephant in the room, but there is nothing but love between two of the state’s top singles players.
“When we play each other, it’s a fight,” Boleski said. “It’s not super easy; we make each other work for it.”
Whitaker has achieved Boleski’s high school goals, twice. Boleski said it is valuable to watch that kind of success daily. It motivates her. Whitaker said she believes they make each other better.
“It gives us a lot of confidence that we can go out and win state with two really good players in singles,” Whitaker said.
But how Kansas high school tennis is set up at most tournaments during the regular season, the two might not play until a regional championship.
Most often, tournaments take the No. 1 player from each team and place them in a bracket and do the same in another bracket with the No. 2 players. If Whitaker takes the No. 1 spot, it’s possible she will enter the state tournament with a worse record and a lower seed than Boleski.
Boleski said she isn’t worried about any of that — not an individual City League, regional or state championship.
“I’m not really putting any expectations on myself,” Boleski said. “I’m just going to go out, play my game and see what happens. ... It’s not about winning state in singles or beating Clara. It’s about our team as a whole.”
There might not have been a better example of a team player last year on Kapaun’s roster than rising senior Claudia Fury.
Playing on Kapaun’s No. 1 doubles team alongside graduated senior Eleanor Baldwin, Fury had high hopes heading into the state tournament. The pair hit a speed bump in the second round.
Playing against Andover Central’s Samara Haenggi and Jazzy Williams, Fury and Baldwin won the first set 6-0. Flying high, the Kapaun duo was grounded in the second set 3-6 and lost in a tiebreaker.
“I think in that match, we kind of froze,” Fury said. “After that, we had to go back out at 10 that night. I think at that point we thought, ‘OK, that was ridiculous.’ We were fired up and crushed that next match.”
They ripped through their first four backside matches and entered the fifth-place match against Salina South’s Sydney McAdoo and Jadyn Zamecnik. Fury and Baldwin won 9-7.
Their points weren’t enough. Kapaun fell in the top three in the team standings for the second straight year, this time to City League rival Bishop Carroll by five points.
Fury will have a different doubles partner for the 2019 season, but whoever is on the court with her, she said she can bring that experience with her.
“It’s my last season,” Fury said. “I’m excited no matter who is with me.”
The Crusaders’ biggest competition for the team title will out of Salina. Salina South and Central came in third and fourth, respectively, at state last year. Both teams return both singles players and lost their No. 1 doubles teams.
Even Kapaun, which finished second, beat those teams by 14 and 21 points.
Carroll might be poised for a down year, coming off the school’s first girls tennis title since 2012. The Golden Eagles brought four seniors to state last year out of six spots.
Still, with all signs pointing toward Kapaun’s first team title since 2011 — the year after Schulte did those calculations, the Crusaders aren’t getting ahead of themselves. They haven’t won a point yet in 2019, but the confidence is high.
“They’ve only gotten better; I know other people have gotten better, too, but I like our possibilities for this year,” Schulte said. “I’d like to say we’re due.”