Collegiate determined to get back atop Kansas’ bests after year away from title
2018 was just the seventh time this century the Collegiate boys tennis team didn’t win a team state championship.
Last year, the Spartans fell seven points shy of McPherson in Class 4A. They had the top singles finisher and third-place doubles team, but 2019 presents exciting but daunting challenges.
Collegiate lost its top two singles players in champion and All-Metro selection Wonjoon Cho and Lakelin Conrad. Cho beat McPherson’s Jarrod Nowak 6-3, 4-6, 6-3 to cap a 25-1 season.
“I didn’t know where we would come up with replacements, and we can’t replace those guys,” Collegiate coach Dave Hawley said. “But we’re going to have to find other ways to get it done.”
Last year, Collegiate’s doubles team of Max Wheeler/Luke Swan won the consolation championship 7-6 (8-6), 7-5 over Topeka Hayden’s Sean Sandstrom/Hayden Federico. Now Wheeler is expected to the Spartans’ leader.
Hawley said Wheeler has had a career that seems as if it has stretched well beyond his four years of eligibility. Wheeler signed with William-Jewell on Tuesday, and at the ceremony, Hawley said he spoke about how he remembered Wheeler commenting on the Spartans’ camouflage uniforms as an eighth grader.
Now as a senior, he is worried about delivering the Collegiate boys’ 23rd team title.
“He has been here forever and paid his dues,” Hawley said. “He’s the bridge to what we’ve had in the past, and that’s really, really important.”
Tuesday Wheeler fell in the Collegiate tournament singles championship to Maize South’s Garrison Wright in a back-and-forth match. Wright will be a top contender in Class 5A this year. Collegiate will drop to Class 3-2-1A.
The draw will be brutal for the Spartans in 2019.
With the realignment of classes, the top four title contenders in Class 4A last year have either moved up or down. Collegiate and Smoky Valley will have to compete with the likes of Hesston, Central Plains, Sterling and Kansas City Christian.
McPherson and Arkansas City have bounced to Class 5A to fight alongside Valley Center, Salina Central and Maize. That has left the cover a bit bare in 4A, Hawley said.
“I’m not denigrating 4A, but the four best teams left” he said. “I’d kill to be in 4A because 3A is loaded.”
The Spartans bring back a solid lineup in 2019. Wheeler will be the headliner. His doubles partner from last year, who he might be paired with again, Luke Swan has proven capable of state points.
Freshman Charlie Dunn has already earned a runner-up tournament finish this season, losing to a Class 6A player in the championship match. And senior Josh Fernandez has earned a third-place finish.
Hawley said every year presents new tests; this time around is no different. He is still looking to nail down the best lineup come state time but said he doesn’t want to have the same conversations he had a year ago.
“When you don’t win, people look at you at times like, ‘What happened?’ “ Hawley said. “They don’t like finishing second. They have been jawing at the bit to get back.”