Blue Valley North juniors Emma Fields and Aishwarya Gondesi weren’t even supposed to be at the Kansas 6A girls’ tennis state tournament last weekend.
It was senior Alyx Paisner’s unfortunate late-season injury that opened the door for Gondesi, who hadn’t been partnered with Fields until the regional tournament.
But the doubles team made the best of an awkward situation, reaching the 6A state semifinals and finishing a surprising fourth for the Mustangs, who finished second behind champion Shawnee Mission East in the team standings.
“It’s really unfortunate Alyx got hurt, but it’s also really exciting to see a team come together and battle against the odds,” BV North coach Ann Dark said last Friday after the first day of the state championships at Harmon Park in Prairie Village. “Going into regionals, I was just hoping to qualify them, so for them to win three matches (Friday) was awesome. I knew they had it in them, but for them to actually do it is amazing.”
Fields and Gondesi were unable to keep the upset train rolling Sunday, falling to eventual champions Elizabeth and Stephanie Wilcox of SM East in the semifinals and then losing to top-seeded Jennifer Lowe and Lindsay of BV Northwest in the third-place match.
Still, it was among the more impressive showing on a weekend dominated by Johnson County tennis teams.
Huddlestun a champ
St. Thomas Aquinas senior Lauren Huddlestun knew postseason disappointment, but usually it came off the court. A doubles partner was expelled the day before regional play her sophomore year, and a scheduling error led to her disqualification from state doubles play last season.
Huddlestun didn’t get the opportunity to rally from those adversities, but she wasn’t going to back down after losing the first set last Friday against Wichita Kapaun-Mt. Carmel’s Allie Schulte in the singles quarterfinals at the Kansas 5A girls’ tennis state championships in Topeka.
Huddlestun rallied for a 5-7, 7-6, 10-7 win to reach the semifinals.
Flash forward to Sunday, Huddlestun was unfazed again after falling behind against Emporia’s Ashley DeBauge in the semifinals, when she again rallied 3-6, 6-1, 6-3 en route to the singles championship.
“After I lost the first set (in the semifinals), I drew on that experience against Schulte,” Huddlestun said. “I collected thoughts and told myself if I really wanted to win state, I had to get in gear.”
Huddlestun, 20-6, did precisely that and then celebrated with her parents at California Pizza Kitchen after downing Wichita Bishop Carroll’s Courtney Lubbers 6-3, 6-2.
Next step? College, Huddlestun hopes.
She has had conversations with William Jewell, Baker and Rockhurst among others.
Preparation pays off
Entering the Kansas 6A girls’ tennis state championships, Blue Valley North senior Shea Flanagan also was something of an underdog.
She had finished second at the regional meet and faced a tough draw that forced her into a quarterfinals match with undefeated Morgan Steffes of Blue Valley.
The night before state, however, BV North coach Ann Dark had explained to Flanagan the difficulty of the road ahead – and that preparation paid off with a 7-5, 6-2 upset of Steffes en route to a state runner-up finish.
“She knew going in that she was going to face a very quality opponent in her second match,” Dark said. “We talked about that, so she was mentally prepared. She came out and just wanted it.”
More 6A highlights
The first and second place doubles teams at the Class 6A girls’ tennis state championships Sunday at Harmon Park are very familiar with each other.
“We played each other every day in practice,” senior Elizabeth Wilcox said.
Both the gold and silver medal teams were from Shawnee Mission East, leading the Lancers to their second straight 6A girls’ tennis team state championship.
The Wilcox sisters’ tandem of senior Elizabeth and sophomore Stephanie improved its record to 26-2 with a 6-2 6-0 victory in the championship match over freshman Aidan Epstein and junior Meredith Shackleford. The second-place team ended the season 25-3.
Lancers coach Sue Chipman said, “Both teams have improved tremendously this year. The sophomore (Stephanie Wilcox) and junior Meredith Shackleford have improved since last year. They all dedicated to practicing and improving. And they all play all year round.”
SM East had 51 points to capture the state title with Blue Valley North second with 37.
“I thought after the first day, we had a chance for first,” BV North coach Ann Dark said. “But we didn’t do as well today (Sunday).”
Olathe East placed fifth in the team standings with 23 points, and Hawks’ coach Jeff Hulse pointed out that that is the school’s best team finish in girls’ tennis.
| Charles Redfield, Special to The Star