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Collegiate senior wins state tennis title after a year of home school

Collegiate teammates Wonjoon Cho (left) and Lakelin Conrad (right).
Collegiate teammates Wonjoon Cho (left) and Lakelin Conrad (right). @WCSKS/Twitter

When Dave Hawley heard the news, he was thrilled.

"Not only did I know he was going to be a great player," the Collegiate tennis coach said. "I knew he was a great kid."

Wonjoon Cho won the 2018 Kansas Class 4A high school singles tournament Saturday in Winfield. His career has come full circle.

Cho started at Collegiate as a middle school student; that was where Hawley met him and learned about his skill. But before Cho's high school career started, he transferred down the road to Independent.

As a freshman, Cho finished third in the Class 3-2-1A singles tournament. He lost to Sacred Heart's Stratton Brown. The next year, Cho made it to the singles final but ran into Brown again and lost again.

Although Brown would return for the following season, Cho had a third- and second-place finish under his belt. Natural progression pointed to Cho taking that final step, but he didn't.

Cho wasn't won the court for Independent or Collegiate or any other team as a junior. He was home. Cho was home-schooled. Independent went from 25 team points and a runner-up finish to finishing third from last with only 2 points.

When Cho came back to Collegiate as a senior, his skills were still sharp. Cho finished the regular season 17-1 and won the Collegiate regional tournament.

A week later at the state tournament, he was a state champion. But there was trouble.

After losing only three games in his first two matches, Cho faced McPherson's Andrew Snell. Snell was the No. 2 qualifier out of the Abilene regional, only behind his teammate, Jarrod Nowak.

Cho won the first set 6-1, but after that, Snell tightened up and came back but Cho pushed through. He won 6-1, 7-6 (7-5).

After getting past Snell, Cho had Nowak, who entered with only three losses this season. Cho won the first set 6-3 and was up 4-1 in the second when his hand started to cramp. Hawley said there is nothing worse for a tennis player.

Nowak took advantage of Cho's cramp and won six straight games to win the second set 6-4. Cho got a 10 minute rest.

"He hydrated, he ate a banana, he rested and just kind of regrouped himself," Hawley said.

The third set was still shaky though. Cho was down 3-1 but rattled off five straight games to win the state title.

"Jarrod didn't play poorly," Hawley said. "He had one bad shot, but Wonjoon just played really, really good balls and he forced Jarrod out of his comfort zone."

Collegiate was last year's Class 4A state champion. The Spartans crushed McPherson by 12 points, but one team returned almost everybody this season and the other did not.

"I had a year to get ready for the fact that unless a meteor hit McPherson and they weren't able to field a team, we weren't gonna win it," Hawley said.

The Bullpups took the team title in 2018 by seven points. Hawley said Collegiate had its opportunities to steal some matches and potentially flip the result but was proud with his team's effort.

To come away with an individual title was special, but the full merit came when athletic director Mitch Fiegel asked Cho whether he was glad he chose to come back. And Cho said yes.

"It was amazing that Wonjoon came our way," Hawley said. "There is no doubt, that was the biggest thing ever."

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