MUSTANGS PREPARE TO DEFEND STATE TITLE
You don’t have to wait very long at a Mustang tennis practice to hear a laugh or see a smile.
“They look forward to everything we do,” head coach Micheal Goll said. They even have a whole day devoted to the idea of fun, Fun Fridays.
“We have one class, like freshman or seniors, they bring a bunch of snacks and we just have fun,” junior Jack Weiner said. “That bonding, really, is what makes a state team.”
The “fun” approach seems to be working. Salina Central tennis has a long history of success, and last year, they added to it by winning state.
The Mustangs lost three of the six people that went with them to state. Weiner and a doubles pair of Zachary Hampton and Jeffrey Michel are the returners. Weiner took fifth overall at state last year as a sophomore, while Hampton and Michel took second, behind two Mustang seniors. Salina Central has already been named #1 in 5A the first two weeks of rankings.
“A lot of weight on our shoulders, we want to do well,” Weiner said. “We won last year and now we are a year older, so you’d think we’d have more experience, we’d do better.”
However, the coach doesn’t see much of the pressure showing up at practice.
“A lot of people talk about pressure, but these kids, I’ve never seen the pressure,” Goll said. “They are always playing loose. They are always playing confident.”
“Business as usual,” Michel said.
Those that have already made the trip to state are ready to return and help push a new set of players. They only have two seniors on the squad, Thomas Hampton and Michel. The lack of seniority doesn’t appear to be much of a problem for the Mustangs.
“We have people who need to step, who are willing to step up,” Michel said. “We still have a lot of fun. We get along.”
With half of their state team gone, there are quite a few people fighting for a spot. It’s competition that could be good for the players.
“There’s not a day that they come out on the practice court that they’re not being pushed to the limit because the kid across the net is working as hard and as talented as they are,” Goll said.
“The more depth you have, it’s kind of a viscous circle,” sophomore J.D. McHenry said. “The more depth you have, you guys can go against each other and make each other better.”
The Mustangs have a strong class of sophomores looking for their chance to make it to state for the first time.
“We are all great friends,” sophomore Zach Hilbig said. “We play well together. We are all really determined and competitive, so we are always learning.”
Last year, Hilbig played varsity all year, but didn’t get to go to state and now he hopes it is his time.
“I’m really ready for it,” Hilbig said. “I’ve been taking lessons and really trying to get better and better.”
J.D. McHenry is also in a running for a top-six spot, but his tennis history doesn’t run as far back as the other players. He started just three years ago as a sophomore.
“All of the sophomores go out to the Pines together and play together and make each other a lot better,” McHenry said.
It is unclear who will be playing in what position, but head coach Micheal Goll says it is a good problem to have.
“There’s going to be three or four kids that are going to be left out that could make a lot of other teams’ regional teams and for us, it’s unfortunate for them, that we can only take six,” Goll said. “But they’re out there, pushing their teammates and they’ll be cheering for their teammate whoever makes it.”
MUSTANGS OPEN SEASON WITH TOURNAMENT TITLE
At Andover, the Salina Central boys tennis team began its season with a first place finish among eight teams competing at the Andover Central Invitational on Thursday.
The Mustangs, led by a title sweep in the singles divisions, finished with 32 team points, edging Maize South by one point. Wichita Kapaun was third with 29.
Central junior Jack Weiner finished 4-0 in No. 1 singles, while sophomore Zach Hilbig also won each of his four matches to take first in No. 2 singles.
Senior Thomas Hampton and sophomore J.D. McHenry finished their day at 3-1 and placed second in No. 1 doubles. Sophomores Mason Courbot and Harrison Jett went 1-2 and tied for fifth in No. 2 doubles.
DOUBLES DOMINANCE / SALINA CENTRAL SWEEPS CLASSIC
Their first year as doubles partners taught Salina Central’s Jeffrey Michel and Zach Hampton how to mesh on the tennis court. It also produced a runner-up finish at the Class 5A state tournament last spring.
As they embarked on a second season together Saturday at the Mustang Doubles Classic, Michel and Hampton didn’t skip a beat on the way to five straight victories.
“At times it could have been better, but overall I was happy with it,” Michel said of the 5-0 finish in No. 1 doubles, part of a Central clean sweep in the tournament. “We both stayed very positive today, and usually one or the other of us is struggling a little.
“We know how to play together now and know how to help each other with the mental part of the game, but today we were both able to stay on top of it.”
It was another dominating performance for Central, which won all 20 matches in the four-division, round-robin format. The Mustangs finished with 20 points, followed in second by Maize South with 11 and Manhattan with 8.
“The last two years we were 20-0, so we wanted to do that again,” Michel said.
Michel and Hampton, a junior, dropped just seven games in their five matches with the closest call an 8-3 decision against Maize South’s Zach Woods and Spencer Jones to close out the tournament. “We played pretty well,” Hampton said of their first tournament this season. “The wind was kind of a factor, but we tried not to make too many mistakes. “The offseason helped us work on stuff that we weren’t as good at last year.”
For Michel, a converted singles player, that meant improving his net game. “Last year, I really struggled volleying, but this offseason I worked a lot on it,” Michel said. “Last year, I was figuring (doubles) out, and this year, I’m making it work.”
While Michel and Hampton moved up to No. 1 doubles after playing behind senior teammates — and state champions — Justin Bengtson and Nathan Garlow last year, senior Thomas Hampton and sophomore J.D. McHenry were more than ready to take over the No. 2 slot.
Their only serious test came against Manhattan’s Bryce Easton and Bryan Armbrust, where they took three of the last four games for an 8-6 victory. “We had a couple of tough matches, but we finally pulled them out,” McHenry said. “We got to the net well and finished volleys well. “We really wanted to go undefeated.”
Rounding out the team for Central were sophomores Mason Courbut and James Michel at No. 3 and sophomore Liam Jones with junior Connor Martens at No. 4. Even freshmen Skylar Hendrick and Akass Bhakta, who played at No. 4 to round out Topeka’s team went 3-2 and took third.
“We’re very blessed with talented young players and great depth,” Central coach Mike Goll said. “Everybody played well. “Our twos (Thomas Hampton and McHenry) had a great day Thursday at Andover Central, but for everybody else it was their first tournament together.”
MUSTANGS COMPETE AT NEWTON
At Newton, Salina Central’s doubles team of Mason Courbot and James Michel finished second at the Newton Invitational. Courbot and Michel won their first three matches before losing 8-1 to Carlgren and Kingsley of Newton in the championship.
Central’s Jon Claybaugh and Liam Jones were 1-3 on the day and placed eighth in doubles..
Harrison Jett placed 10th the singles competition with a 2-2 record. Cole Leiker was 0-4 in singles competition placing 16th.
Newton won the team title with 52 points while Winfield was second with 42. Central had 32 and took sixth.
SALINA CENTRAL SECOND TO 6A POWER BLUE VALLEY WEST
At Goddard, Salina Central had a strong showing from each of its four entries, leading to a second-place finish among 16 schools competing Saturday at the John Markham Classic.
The Mustangs totaled 134 points, trailing only 6A Powerhouse Blue Valley West with 141. The tournament was conducted with only one singles division and one doubles division, each with 32 entries, and all Central participants finished eighth or better.
The doubles team of Zachary Hampton and Jeffrey Michel took second, going 4-1 on the day. Jack Weiner also went 4-1 and placed third in singles. Central had a sixth-place finish from the doubles team of Thomas Hampton and J.D. McHenry, who went 3-2, while Zach Hilbig was 2-3 and placed eighth in singles.
Blue Valley West and Salina Central were followed in the team standings by Wichita Collegiate 92, Wichita Independent 83, McPherson 79, Goddard 79, Goddard Eisenhower 79, Derby 76, Campus 72, Conway Springs 71, Maize 70, Hutchinson 65, Hutchinson 65, Topeka West 64, Independence 57, Lawrence Free State 48, and St. Thomas Aquinas 48.
SALINA CENTRAL ROMPS TO VICTORY
Top-ranked Salina Central had little trouble winning its own Mustang Classic on Tuesday. Central compiled 62 points with Newton placing a distant second with 48. The rest of the field included Andover 37, Hesston 37, Emporia 30, Sacred Heart 23, Salina South 21, Garden City 13, and Smoky Valley 9.
The Mustangs’ doubles team of Jeffrey Michel and Zachary Hampton won the championship, capturing all four of their matches. They won the championship match with Newton's Doubles team of Josh Carlgren and Riley Kingsley 8-6. Thomas Hampton and J.D. McHenry placed fifth, going 3-1. Salina South’s Matt Berneking and Pierce Carey finished 3-1 and placed third. South’s Kevin Kraus and Zach Koshgarian were 2-2 and took 15th.
Sacred Heart’s Stratton Brown breezed to the singles title, defeating Central’s Jack Weiner 8-2 in the championship. Brown was 4-0 and Weiner 3-1. Central’s Zach Hilbig finished sixth with a 2-2 record while Sacred Heart’s Ricardo Riva was 1-3 and took 13th. South’s Logan Harner placed 12th with a 1-2 record while J.D. Warren was 1-3 and placed 16th.
MUSTANG SPLIT SQUAD TAKES THIRD AT McPHERSON
At McPherson, Salina Central’s doubles team of Jeffrey Michel and Zachary Hampton battled their way to the finals Saturday at the McPherson Invitational before falling 8-6 to the Bullpups’ Peter Horton and Ryan Horton.
Central, playing with a split squad, compiled 42 points in the team competition, taking third in the eight-team event. McPherson won it with 48 points, followed by Wichita Collegiate with 46.
Central’s other doubles team of Mason Courbot and James Michel finished the day 2-2 and took seventh. In singles competition, Jack Weiner (2-2) took fourth while Harrison Jett (1-3) finished 12th. The Mustangs return to action Tuesday at Topeka West.
SALINA CENTRAL TAKES THE DERBY INVITATIONAL
At Derby, freshman Skylar Hendrick finished with a championship title at #2 Singles with a record of 4-0. He led the Mustang team to a first place finish at the Derby Invitational. At #1 Singles, sophomore James Michel recovered from a illness default in his second match to finish in fifth place with a 2-2 record on the day.
In doubles, juniors Jon Claybaugh and Connor Martens teamed up to finish in 3rd place at #1 doubles with a record of 3-1. The #2 doubles team of sophomores Liam Jones and Cole Leiker finished in second place with a record of 3-1.
The Mustangs are back in action Thursday to compete in the Salina South Invitational.
MUSTANG'S SECOND UNIT TAKES FOURTH AT SALINA SOUTH
Pierce Carey and Matt Berneking won the doubles championship and led Salina South to a third-place team finish Thursday in the Salina South Invitational.
Manhattan, led by singles champion Kirkland Lambert, won the team title with 59 points, followed by Valley Center with 43, South with 40 and Salina Central with 38.
Carey and Berneking breezed through their four matches, blanking Andover’s Matt Rochat and Ty Wilson, 8-0, in the finals. South also got a fourth-place finish from Logan Harner in singles.
For Salina Central, Zach Hilbig dropped just six games on his way to the singles final before falling 8-2 to Lambert. The other singles entry for the Mustangs was freshman Skylar Hendrick who finished 12th. The Mustangs’ top doubles finishers were Mason Courbot and James Michel in seventh place and Harrison Jett and Cole Leiker in 10th place.
SALINA CENTRAL DOMINATES OWN INVITATIONAL
With postseason tournaments less than two weeks away, time is quickly running out on the 2014 high school boys tennis season.
If you ask Salina Central junior Jack Weiner or the Salina South doubles team of junior Pierce Carey and sophomore Matt Berneking, that still leaves time to improve.
Weiner finished second in the singles division at the Salina Central Invitational on Saturday, while Carey and Berneking also took second in the doubles bracket.
Central, the defending state champion and top-ranked team in Class 5A, was an easy winner of the team title with 121 points. The Mustangs had each of their four entries finish fifth or higher.
Weiner went 3-1 on the day, defeating teammate Zach Hampton in the semifinals before falling 8-2 to unbeaten Johnny Goodwin of Kansas City Christian in the title contest.
“I’m playing OK, but the exact same thing happened to me last year,” Weiner said. “I practice indoors all the time before the season starts and then it takes me a very long time to get used to playing outside. “I do eventually get more comfortable and feel good by the time state comes around.”
Weiner and Hampton went head-to-head in a lengthy semifinal that was decided in a tiebreaker, 8-7 (7-4). Hampton, who normally plays doubles with teammate Jeffrey Michel, was playing singles for the first time this season.
“Whenever I play Zach it gets really intense,” Weiner said. “We slow down a bit when we play, I think because we’re each scared to lose. “I know I don’t want to beat him, but I also don’t want to lose to him. It is really nice, when we are both putting in a bunch of effort, to come out on top.”
Weiner didn’t like his chances against Goodwin, who is one of the top-ranked juniors in Kansas and was a Class 3-2-1A state runner-up last year. Goodwin won each of his first three matches by an 8-0 final. Weiner trailed 3-2 early before Goodwin won the final five games. “I went in like I was playing my instructor and it was a private lesson,” Weiner said. “I wouldn’t win but I wanted to make a good effort. Whenever I made a mistake he would make me pay for it. “Whenever I’m playing people I know I am going to struggle against, I like to experiment and try different things. I try mind tricks on my opponent.”
Carey and Berneking’s runner-up finish Saturday came only two days after the Cougars won No. 1 doubles at their own South Invitational.
“It was a pretty good day, but no, we’re still not where we need to be,” Berneking said. “We need to keep getting better. We are a lot better since the first tournament of the season, but we need to continue to get better for the bigger tournaments coming up.
“It was a good day,” Carey said. “I can’t complain. But we have to keep working on little things and cut down on unforced errors to keep improving.” Carey-Berneking won their first two matches by identical 8-2 finals, then defeated a team from St. Thomas Aquinas in the semifinals 8-5.
The Cougars faced Wichita Independent’s Jacob Maddox and Vishnu Nagireddy in the finals, with Maddox a two-time state champion in doubles with a different partner. After falling behind 3-0, Carey and Berneking cut the deficit to 4-3 before dropping the final four games.
“After our second match today I wasn’t feeling well, but we were still able to play really hard (in the semifinals),” Carey said. “We just couldn’t hold serve in the final. “We got both breaks back after we got behind, but then they broke us again and it was all downhill from there.” “We couldn’t afford to get down early,” Berneking said. “We dug too big a hole for ourselves. We need to work on staying in every single point.”
After his loss to Weiner in the semifinals, Hampton lost 8-2 to Goddard’s Timio Lopez and finished fourth.
Michel and Thomas Hampton, the only seniors on the Central roster, played doubles together for the first time in their high school careers and finished third. Their lone loss came in a semifinal tiebreaker to Maddox-Nagireddy.
Central’s other entry of J.D. McHenry and Zach Hilbig also went 4-1 and finished fifth in doubles. Their lone loss also came against Maddox-Nagireddy in the quarterfinals.
“We kind of mixed it up today,” Central coach Mike Goll said. “We promised Zach an opportunity to play singles and we wanted to give our seniors an opportunity to play together, which they hadn’t done since middle school.
“It worked out all the way around. It was a good opportunity to have fun before we get back to business on Tuesday.”
Buhler finished second in the team standings with 88 points and Wichita Independent was third with 83. The Mustangs second team tied for eighth with 66 points.
Salina South finished 10th among the 13 schools, while Sacred Heart entered only one doubles team and placed last in the team standings.
Central’s James Michel, playing for the Mustangs second team, went 4-1 and took ninth, winning each of his final three matches in a tiebreaker. South’s Logan Harner defeated Central’s Mason Courbot in the eleventh-place match, 8-6.
Sacred Heart’s Axel Lofalk and Richardo Riva finished the day with a 2-3 record and placed 12th.
CLEAN SWEEP FOR MUSTANGS AT QUAD
The Salina Central Tennis team swept every division in the Mustang Quadrangular Meet. Each of the four entries went undefeated on the day. At #1 singles, sophomore Zach Hilbig defeated Collin Adams of Maize South in his final match to end the day at 3-0. Also at 3-0 was sophomore Harrison Jett at #2 Singles.
In doubles, the #1 team of senior Thomas Hampton and sophomore J. D. McHenry and the #2 team of junior Connor Martens and sophomore Liam Jones also went 3-0.
The Mustangs easily won the team title with a perfect score of 12 followed by Maize South with 7, Ellsworth with 3, and Junction City with 2.
The team will be back in action Friday as they travel to Emporia for their final tuneup of the year before the AVCTL League meet in Maize next Monday.
SALINA CENTRAL BOASTS TWO CHAMPIONS AT EMPORIA
At Emporia, Salina Central’s Jack Weiner won the singles division and the doubles team of Jeffrey Michel and Zach Hampton were the doubles champions at the Emporia Invitational.
Weiner went 3-0 on the day, defeating Kirkland Lambert 8-4 in the championship match.
Michel and Hampton also went 3-0 and won their championship match over the team of Osborne and Osborne from Washburn Rural by an 8-6 score.
James Michel and Mason Courbot placed third in doubles, going 3-1. Harrison Jett was 2-2 in singles, finishing in 11th place.
Washburn Rural won the team title with 55 points. Central was second with 52.
The Mustangs are back in action on Monday as they travel to Maize for the AVCTL League Championships. Salina Central is the defending champion of the league.
MUSTANGS CAPTURE ANOTHER AVCTL TITLE
At Maize, Salina Central cruised to the Ark Valley Chisholm Trail League I title, led by Jack Weiner’s championship effort in singles. Weiner won all three of his matches in claiming the crown. Teammate Zach Hilbig (2-2) placed sixth while Salina South’s Logan Harner (2-1) finished ninth and J.D. Warren (1-2) 13th.
Central’s doubles team of Zachary Hampton and Jeffrey Michel (2-1) placed second. South’s Pierce Carey and Matt Berneking were third (3-1). Central’s Thomas Hampton and J.D. McHenry (3-1) finished fifth and South’s Zach Koshgarian and Kevin Kraus (1-2) 11th.
Central, the No. 1-ranked team in Class 5A, had 43 points and Newton 37. Hutchinson took third with 30 points and Maize fourth with 25. South and Wichita Campus tie for fifth with 20 points each.
Central and South will compete in the 5A regional tournament Saturday at Valley Center.
SALINA CENTRAL CROWNED REGIONAL CHAMPIONS
At Valley Center, the Mustang Tennis Team repeated as 5A Regional Champions. The defending State Champions compiled a total of 22 points to outdistance the second place Newton Railroaders with 17 points. The Mustangs were led by junior Jack Weiner in Singles who finished the day as Regional Champion. Teammate Zach Hilbig, a sophomore, was able to rebound from a loss in the semifinals to capture 3rd place. Both players qualified for the State Tournament.
In fact, the entire team qualified for State as the Doubles tandem of junior Zachary Hampton and senior Jeffrey Michel finished the day as Regional Runner Up. They were defeated in the finals by the team of Carlgren and Kingsley of Newton. The other Doubles team of senior Thomas Hampton and sophomore J. D. McHenry were able to finish fourth in the meet.
The Mustangs, ranked #1 in the State, will travel to Topeka to compete in the 5A State Tournament on both Friday and Saturday of this week.
READY TO RUN
It appears the gap has narrowed between the Salina Central boys tennis team and the rest of Class 5A. That’s fine with the Mustangs, as long as that gap doesn’t close completely.
Central dominated on its way to the 5A state title a year ago, scoring more than double the points of any other team in the 2013 tournament. The Mustangs are among the favorites again as the 5A tourney opens today at Kossover Tennis Center in Topeka.
“Yes we’re still ranked No. 1 in the state, but the difference between No. 1 and 2, 3 and 4 ... the gaps have shrunk,” Central coach Mike Goll said. “It’s going to take the best effort of our kids to repeat.”
“If we all go do what we’re supposed to do, we should win state,” Central senior Thomas Hampton said. “But we can’t have any letdowns. Everybody at state, even if they aren’t a No. 1 seed, has earned their way there. Stuff happens and we still have to play." “I think this team has been really good about staying focused, going out and getting Salina Central on the map.”
Competition begins today at 11:30 a.m., and the championship bracket in both doubles and singles will play out through the quarterfinals early this evening. The tourney will conclude Saturday with consolation matches, championship semifinals and title matches.
Central’s state championship a year ago was its seventh in 10 years, including a run of six straight from 2004 through 2009. The Mustangs were so dominant year ago that they had the team title wrapped up by Friday night.
One of their biggest challengers this weekend could be Ark Valley Chisholm Trail League rival Newton. The Railers have been ranked No. 2 in 5A behind Central since early April and finished second to the Mustangs at both the league and regional meets.
Both Wichita Kapaun and Andover, ranked No. 3 and 4 respectively, qualified their entire team for state, as did Central.
“There are too many power teams out there for us to do what we did last year,” Goll said of locking up the title early. “Newton got everybody’s attention at league and regional. They are a strong and talented team that will push us, and Kapaun and Andover will be right there.”
“It would be really cool to be back-to-back state champs and we feel very confident in where we are standing,” Central senior Jeffrey Michel said. “I think last year everybody stepped up and did their best. With the people we have this year, we have the capability of doing it again.”
Three of Central’s six participants this weekend also competed at state in 2013. Junior Jack Weiner placed fifth in singles last year, while Michel and junior Zachary Hampton were state runners-up in doubles.
Central will also be represented this weekend by sophomore Zach Hilbig in singles, and Thomas Hampton and sophomore J.D. McHenry in doubles.
“Every team is different, but these kids have the same mentality as last year as far as being very confident,” Goll said. “Last year’s team was fun to work with and this group is fun to work with. And like last year, all of these kids have put their time in since elementary school.”
Weiner is 30-6 overall and was the league and regional champion the past two weeks.
Zachary Hampton and Michel are 29-4 and finished second at the Valley Center regional. Their only loss at state last year was to their own teammates, Justin Bengtson and Nathan Garlow, in the title match.
McHenry and Thomas Hampton (27-8), and Hilbig (23-11) are each making their first state tournament appearance.
“This is really special for me, and I’ve been looking forward to it for a long time,” Thomas Hampton said. “I was right at a level the last two years where I could have played at state if I played for another school.
“But I don’t have any regrets. My team pushed me, and I’m really honored to have worked myself up to the final six.”
SALINA CENTRAL STILL ALIVE TO DEFEND
The first day of state tennis is all about jockeying for position. Trying to make the cut so you can compete on the second day. That’s because when Day 1 is finished, the 12 singles players and 12 doubles teams left standing are assured of receiving a medal.
But at the 5A tournament nothing was decided at the end of the first day. That’s because Mother Nature ended the day early.
“We were about one to 1 1/2 hours away from completing all the matches today,” tournament manager Brad Dietz said during the rain delay.
The rain pushed nine singles matches and a like number of doubles matches to Saturday morning. Action begins at 8:30 a.m. at Kossover Tennis Courts.
The revised schedule still means to medal you must win twice on the championship side and three times if you fall into the consolation bracket. Seeded entries only have to win twice, but that is often difficult to do. Just ask the six seeded entries in this year’s Class 5A state tournament in Topeka who lost their first match of the day.
Four of the six who stumbled were doubles teams. Caleb Book and Andrew Growney of St. James Academy lost to Grant Boyd and Cameron Waters of Seaman. Andover’s Tristen Jones and Stephen Le lost to Blake Jackson and Patrick Krim of St. Thomas Aquinas. Dustin Harmon and Jason Searl of Kapaun Mt. Carmel lost to Pierce Carey and Matt Berneking of Salina South. Sam Rogers and Isaac Dunn lost to Thomas Hampton and J.D McHenry of Salina Central.
Perhaps the most dramatic loss came in singles play where Kapaun’s Mason Born defeated Adrian McAfee of Pittsburg. McAfee entered the tournament with a 32-1 record. The other seeded singles player to fall was Paul Dresvyanniscov of Mill Valley, who lost to Tomasso Piani of Kapaun Mt. Carmel.
Micheal Goll, coach of top-ranked Salina Central, believes the Mustangs are doing well.
“We had a slow start,” he said. “I’m pleased with everybody’s play during first day. I’m confident they’ll come back ready to play tomorrow.”
The Mustangs are looking to repeat as state champions, which puts a target squarely on their backs.
“Target on your back means you’re pretty darn good,” Goll said. “We’re at that spot and we welcome the competition. The kids have been working since elementary school to get here. This is right where we want to be.”
CENTRAL STANDARD TIME: 5A CHAMPS
TOPEKA — It didn’t come quite so easy, but that doesn’t make Salina Central’s latest state tennis title any less satisfying.
When the Mustangs scored more than double the points of their nearest competitors at the Class 5A state meet a year ago, they had their team title locked up on Friday night. Their latest championship — Central’s eighth in the past 11 years — didn’t come until a little after 2 p.m. Saturday, and only after senior Jeffrey Michel and junior Zach Hampton pulled off a minor upset in the doubles championship match at Kossover Tennis Center.
Central finished with 39 team points, edging league rival Newton in second with 33. Michel and Hampton defeated Newton’s top doubles team and the state tournament’s top seed, Josh Carlgren and Riley Kinsley, in the doubles final. Michel-Hampton were 1-2 against Carlgren-Kinsley this season, including losses to the Railers in both the league and regional finals the last two weeks.
“Coach told us we needed to win because we were only a few points away from winning the team title,” Michel said. “Instead of playing like the pressure was on us, we took it and ran with it."
“We played our hearts out, and that’s the only reason we beat an amazing doubles team in the finals. We did what we could.”
“All we knew was if we won, we would probably win the state (team) title,” Hampton said. “Which made winning even better."
“It’s exciting to win state titles back-to-back.”
Hampton and Michel’s 6-1, 7-6 (7-0) win in the final proved to be a four-point swing between the Mustangs and Railers in the final team standings. When Central junior Jack Weiner won his final match to finish third in singles a short time later, that provided the Mustangs with two additional points in their margin of victory.
“Zach and Jeffrey answered the challenge,” Central coach Mike Goll said. “We needed them to step up in the championship match, and that was some of the best doubles you’ll see from both teams.
“It’s much more fun to know you’ve won it on the first day as opposed to saying ‘We need this match to win’ on the second day.”
Central received points from each of its six team members at state. In addition to the doubles title and third-place finish in singles, senior Thomas Hampton and sophomore J.D. McHenry finished 11th in doubles, while sophomore Zach Hilbig went 2-2 on the weekend to pick up two team points.
“Everybody contributed and everybody improved throughout the year,” Goll said. “That’s what team tennis is all about.”
Hampton and Michel opened the day with by completing their rain-delayed quarterfinal, then advanced to the title match with a 6-0, 6-1 victory over Salina South’s Matt Berneking and Pierce Carey in the semifinals.
Just as they did at the regional meet a week ago against Carlgren-Kinsley, the Mustangs rolled in the opening set in Saturday’s final, winning the last five games after a 1-1 start.
“We just knew we had to have our A game when we played against them,” Hampton said. “Even after we won the first set 6-1, we couldn’t let up after that.”
Central never had a lead in the second set until it reached the tiebreaker. The Mustangs were down 4-2 after Newton got its only service break in the match, then had to come back from 5-4 and 6-5 deficits by holding serve late in the set.
Newton had one set point opportunity in the 12th game, but once the Mustangs got it to a tiebreaker, they dominated from there.
“At regional, we took the first set and they came back and beat us fairly cleanly,” Michel said. “In the second set today, every point mattered. They had set point on us once, but we stepped up and finished.
“And I’ve never won a tiebreaker like that. I’ve never won one 7-0.”
Michel and Hampton finished second in doubles at the 5A state meet a year ago, falling to Central teammates Justin Bengtson and Nathan Garlow in the title match. They completed this season with a 33-4 record.
“I’m really proud of Zach and Jeffrey because they’ve put a lot of work into it,” Weiner said. “I’m glad they did better than last year, and they beat the guys who took them out in league and regional.”
Weiner continues climb
Weiner also continued his steady improvement over three state tourney appearances. After finishing seventh at state as a freshman in 2012, he placed fifth a year ago. Weiner’s lone loss at state this year came in the semifinals, where he fell to Topeka Seaman senior Todd Rilinger, 7-5, 6-2. He ended the meet by defeating Wichita Kapaun’s Mason Born in the third-place match, 6-0, 6-1, and was 33-7 this season.
“Rilinger is a great player and has a somewhat similar style to mine,” Weiner said. “He gets a whole lot back and plays aggressive.
“After a loss like that, it’s always kind of sad. My first goal was to win state. My second goal was to at least finish better than last year. I took seventh as a freshman, fifth place as a sophomore and now I’ve kept those intervals going.”
Rilinger won the opening set in the singles title match against Berett Hollis, but the Arkansas City freshman rallied for a 1-6, 7-5, 6-3 victory. Seaman finished third in the team standings with 24 points, followed by Wichita Kapaun (23) and Arkansas City (22).
TOPEKA - It was a repeat team champion but first-time singles and doubles winners in the Class 5A State Tennis Tournament at Kossover Tennis Courts.
The Salina Central Mustangs scored 39 points to win their second straight team title, followed by Newton with 36 and Topeka Seaman with 24.
“We just have a bunch of kids who are dedicated to play all season long,” Central coach Michael Goll said. “That’s what it takes. You got to play in that off-season. They put in the time and they’re enjoying the fruits of their labors.”
Two Mustangs who are definitely enjoying the fruits of this season’s labors are junior Zachary Hampton and senior Jeffrey Michel. In 2013, they finished second behind senior teammates Justin Bengtson and Nathan Garlow. This year, Hampton and Michel ascended to the throne with a 6-1, 7-6 (0) win over senior Josh Carlgren and junior Riley Kinsley of Newton.
“I can’t speak for Jeffrey, but for me it meant a lot,” Hampton said. “Last year we were second. The year before I played the state champions in the quarters and lost a super tiebreak 9-11. It just means a lot.”
It meant a lot to Michel as well.
“We worked for it all year,” he said. “It was our turn. We played our best and did what we needed to do.”
These teams split four games this season. Newton won in the regional finals, but Salina Central took home all the marbles.
“We knew it was going to be a battle from the start,” Goll said. “Newton is just too good a team. They have nothing to hang their heads about.”
Hampton and Michel made it look easy in the first set, cruising 6-1. But the Railers made a match out of it in the second set, taking a 4-2 lead in games. The Mustangs rallied to deadlock the set at six games apiece before overwhelming Carlgren and Kinsley 7-0 in the tiebreaker.
The Railers had set point at 6-5 but couldn’t get the job done.
“When we dropped to 5-6, our big buy, Jeffrey Michel, just rose to the top,” Goll said. “Zachary is always there for us. Jeffrey, the senior, he was on top of his game. The two of them came together at the right time.”
It was no contest in the tiebreaker as Central reeled off seven straight points for the win.
“We were little bit of a slow start, but Central played great. We’ve had some great battles this year, and they made very few mistakes when it counted,” Newton coach Nick Sisson said. “We had to answer and we did – in the second set. At the end of the day, they were just a little bit tougher in the second set.”
Placing third was Pierce Carey and Matt Berneking of Salina South. They defeated Blake Jackson and Patrick Krim of St. Thomas Aquinas 6-1, 6-3.
Down by one set, Ark City‘s Berett Hollis rallied late to force a third set and win the singles title 1-6, 7-5, 6-3 over Todd Rilinger from Topeka Seaman.
“He stepped up as a freshman and played with the big boys,” Ark City coach Aaron O’Donnell said of Hollis. “He got exposed to a lot of quality players through the season. He took a few losses to some extremely quality players and he beat some, too.”
Rilinger, a senior, opened with an easy 6-1 victory. Despite that, Hollis was not fazed and knew what he had to do.
“I knew that he was going to play that same way and I just had to get more balls than him and stay in it mentally, too,” Hollis said.
After losing that first set, it took awhile for Hollis to get back into the match.
“When he was down 1-3, love 40, he was able to get that game and make it 2-3,” O’Donnell said. “That was a huge turning point, and it stayed fairly even after that.”
Hollis went on to win the set 7-5. After Rilinger pulled to within 3-2 in the third set, Hollis regained control and won 6-3.
“Berett has a way of finding his way into a match,” O’Donnell said. “He did that in the semis, too, lost the first set fairly easily, then found a way to pull it out.”
The soft-spoken Hollis was not very talkative afterward.
“Words can’t even describe how I feel,” he said with a smile.
Salina Central’s Jack Weiner captured third with a 6-0, 6-1 win over Mason Born of Kapaun Mt. Carmel.
This was the eighth team title in the past 11 years for the Mustangs, who show no signs of letting up anytime soon.
“I’ve got a good bunch of kids and a good sophomore class coming through,” Goll said. “We’ll be alright.”
"TEAM FIRST" APPROACH SERVES CENTRAL WELL
After coming so close to a doubles title in 2013, it would have been understandable if Salina Central’s Jeffrey Michel and Zach Hampton had put winning the doubles division at the Class 5A state tournament Saturday at the top of their wish list.
But there was a bigger goal in mind. Central has built its reputation as a state power in boys tennis behind its recent run of 5A team titles. Eight in the last 11 years to be exact.
Michel, one of two seniors on Central’s state tourney team, wanted to help add to the Mustangs’ recent domination in their classification.
“Going into the tournament I wanted the team title more than anything,” Michel said. “It’s cool to get to say you are the best doubles team in the state, but it’s awesome to say your team is the best. The individual title was the cherry on top.”
Team titles and individual titles are not mutually exclusive, especially for the Mustangs.
Michel and Hampton become the eighth set of Central teammates to win a state doubles title, but the first Mustangs to win a doubles title the year after finishing as runner-up.
After losing in the finals to Central teammates Justin Bengtson and Nathan Garlow a year ago, Hampton-Michel defeated their biggest nemesis in this year’s final. The Mustangs were 1-2 this season against Newton’s Josh Carlgren and Riley Kinsley, but evened the score with a 6-1, 7-6 (7-0) win in Saturday’s state title match.
Central doubles teams are now 8-3 when playing in a state title match since 1992. Two of the three losses (2000, 2013) have come when the Mustangs are playing their own teammates in the championship match.
Central will return four of its six state qualifiers next season, but the loss of one member from each doubles team could lead to some changes in 2015.
Central coach Mike Goll noted that Hampton, who was partners with Michel each of the last two years, could move to singles for his final season now that Michel has graduated.
“We really have to thank Zach Hampton,” Goll said. “He put his personal aspirations for a possible singles championship on hold when I asked him to stay in doubles for the team.
“He could have finished in the top four in this (singles) field, but he was a team player.”
Sophomore Zach Hilbig, who played No. 2 singles much of this season, could move to doubles as a potential partner for sophomore J.D. McHenry, who played most of this season with senior Thomas Hampton.
Hilbig had to battle early in the season to earn a spot on the Mustang varsity. His state meet appearance included a 2-2 record, with a loss in a super tiebreaker in the second round.
“Zach Hilbig has really improved so much,” said Central junior Jack Weiner, who will return next season as a three-time state medalist in singles. “He wasn’t someone who was in the top six when the season started, but he learned so much in practice and used the tips he picked up when hitting with me.
“He played so beautifully this weekend, the best I’ve seen him play.”
- Zach Hampton and Michel finished the season with a 33-4 record, with half of their losses coming to Carlgren-Kinsley. The Newton doubles team finished its season at 30-2, with both of its losses coming to Hampton-Michel.
- Central has won 11 state team titles since 1993, while the rest of 5A has combined to win 11 in the same time span.
- In an unusual coincidence, three of the four state team champions on Saturday — Central in 5A, Topeka Hayden in 4A, Kansas City Christian in 3-2-1A — each finished with exactly 39 team points. Shawnee Mission East won the 6A title with 52 points.
- The Salina South doubles team of Pierce Carey and Matt Berneking were the only Cougars to qualify for state this year. Their third-place finish in doubles was good for 14 team points, enough to give South eighth place in the team standings.
- Five of the seven schools that finished above South in the team standings qualified the maximum six entrants and the others had five each.
- Sacred Heart’s Stratton Brown pulled off a similar feat. He was the lone Knight to qualify for the Class 3-2-1A state meet, but scored 16 points with a runner-up finish in singles and tied for seventh in the final team standings.
- The Knights, or Brown to be more specific, finished ahead of or tied with four schools that qualified at least five team members.