It didn’t look certain, but Collegiate pulled it out again.
The Spartans are Kansas high school boys tennis champions for the 23rd time after a year off the top. The doubles pair of Max Wheeler/Luke Swan clinched it with a title of their own in Kansas City.
Collegiate held off Kansas City Christian 39-37 for the Class 3-2-1A championship. It was the tightest finish in the state.
Last year, Wheeler/Swan finished third in Class 4A. McPherson’s Nolan Schrader/Kaden Stewart thumped them 6-3, 6-2. Swan was only a freshman then, and Wheeler still had another shot.
In their last go together, Wheeler/Swan beat Central Plains’ Brett Liebl/Devin Ryan 7-6 (7-3), 4-6, 7-5 in one of the most entertaining matches of the tournament.
Wheeler started the season as a singles player. Coach Dave Hawley contemplated whether to keep him alone or match him up with Swan for another round. He did, and it paid off.
They ripped through their side of the bracket, dropping only six games in the first two matches. Smoky Valley’s Matt and Jake Lucas took six games over two sets against the champs, but the only real trouble came in the final against Liebl and Ryan, two of the more recognizable names in Kansas’ smallest classifications as football and basketball state champions.
Collegiate brought a full team to state in 2019, and none finished lower than ninth.
Freshman Charlie Dunne took ninth in singles. Sophomore and regional champion Grant Ramsey finished eighth. And Collegiate’s second doubles team of seniors Mike Feng/Josh Fernandez placed seventh.
In 2018, Collegiate fell 48-41 to McPherson, who bumped up to Class 5A this year. As the Spartans and several other state powers dropped into 3-2-1A, the field in Kansas City was arguably as strong as any in Kansas.
After losing Wonjoon Cho, an All-Metro selection and singles champion, to graduation, Hawley said at the beginning of the season that his group would have to find other ways to get it done. And it did Saturday, spurred on motivation from last season.
“When you don’t win, people look at you at times like, ‘What happened?’ “ Hawley said in March. “They don’t like finishing second. They have been jawing at the bit to get back.”