Other Varsity Sports

After 36 years, tennis coach wins his first state championship

Valley Center tennis coach Dean Schulz talks with his players during the Class 5A tournament.
Valley Center tennis coach Dean Schulz talks with his players during the Class 5A tournament. Courtesy of Valley Center athletics

Walking into the Valley Center High School gym can be humbling.

There aren't many banners for state championships, and there are none for any boys team in any sport. But give it a couple of weeks.

The Hornets won the Class 5A boys tennis state championship Saturday, holding off Salina Central by three points to capture the school's first boys title. After 36 years of building the program, coach Dean Schulz has his payoff.

Schulz, 68, got to Valley Center in 1982. He had never heard of it but was looking for a teaching and coaching position. Back then, team trophies were not even presented, according to the Kansas State High School Activities Association website.

That started four years later.

"I've coached some of my players' parents," Schulz said.

Valley Center has always had a solid boys tennis team, but this year's title came as a surprise to followers in Kansas. Last year, the Hornets finished eighth in Class 5A with half the team score of champion, Maize.

The best finish a singles player or doubles pair had last year was eighth.

This year, different story.

Valley Center's worst placement at the state tournament was eighth. Third was its best, and it did it twice.

First, the Hornets' top singles player Hayden Brauer beat St. James Academy's Isaac Howes 3-6, 6-3, 7-5 in the third-place match. Brauer's loss came in the semifinals against eventual state champion, Olathe West's Brett Seaton.

Then, Valley Center's doubles pair Ian Clifton/Garrett Rogers did the same thing. Clifton and Rogers won two matches before they were bounced in the semifinals. But they came back strong.

The pair won the third-place match over Eisenhower's Nathan Watson/Tyler McGreevy, 6-2, 6-0.

Although Valley Center didn't have an individual state champion, a player who could dominate an entire field of state qualifiers, it had depth. That was key.

The Hornets needed every state qualifier to contribute, and they did.

"It really came down to our second doubles team," Shulz said. "I put (Colby) Swift and (Braydon) Ruble together in the middle of the year."

Swift/Ruble beat won their match against Mill Valley in the consolation bracket to qualify for the seventh-place match, and that put the comeback out of reach for Salina Central.

"It's starting to sink in," he said. "The important thing about this team is they set their goal to win state last fall.

"We just had the right combination of experience and talent, and it came together at the right time."

Walking into the Valley Center gym won't be bare for the boys anymore. They have one. And for Schulz, he won't make it to his 37th season without a state championship.

Schulz said he doesn't know exactly how much longer he will coach the Hornets, but he said he won't ever forget the 2018 group that brought him what he has been searching for since 1982.

"It's unquantifiable," Schulz said. "It's history, and how do you quantify history?"