Four days after winning a league title, the Salina Central boys tennis team made a run at adding a regional championship to its list of accomplishments this season.
The Mustangs came up a little short, finishing two points back of Valley Center in the standings after all matches were completed at the Class 5A regional on Friday at the Central High courts.
What Central did do was qualify all of its entries for next week’s 5A state tournament in Emporia, something no other team at the Salina regional was able to match. The Mustang contingent will include one senior and five freshmen.
“The bottom line is we got the whole team in,” Central coach Mike Goll said. “When you look at this team we have five freshmen with one senior leading them through.
“It would have been tough to believe we had a shot at a regional title, but here we are.”
Central, ranked No. 3 in 5A, finished with 17 team points. Valley Center, ranked No. 2, had a first-place finish in singles and its doubles teams placed second and third. Salina South was fourth in the team standings with six points.
Central’s day included a first-place finish in doubles for senior Will Hayes and freshman Reed McHenry. The tournament’s top seeded doubles team never had an opponent win more than three games in any set.
“We knew coming in that this would be one of the most stacked regionals in doubles,” Hayes said. “Valley Center has one of the best doubles teams in the state so we knew we definitely had to play our best and we did.”
In the championship match with Valley Center’s Ian Clifton and Garrett Rogers, the teams were tied 2-all in the first set before the Mustangs took control.
McHenry and Hayes won nine of the next 10 games, taking the opening set 6-3 and bolting to a 5-0 lead in the second before wrapping it up at 6-2.
“We knew we had to get to the net,” Hayes said. “Both of their players are really good and have played singles in the past so they can stroke it. We had to get to the net and attack them.”
The win in the finals guarantees the Central duo will be one of the top four seeds at the state tournament and with a 34-1 record, could well be the overall No. 1 seed in doubles.
“If we keep this up at state we should have a pretty good shot,” McHenry said. “This one was really important because Valley Center is one of the best teams in the state. We wanted to be seeded higher and get a better draw.”
Central also had a fourth-place finish in doubles from freshmen Chase Courbot and McCabe Green. After winning their first round and quarterfinal matches in straight sets, Courbot and Green lost to Clifton-Rogers in the semifinals, 6-2, 6-3.
Their third-place match went the full three sets before the Mustang teammates fell to Valley Center’s Colby Swift and Brayden Ruble, 6-4, 2-6, 7-5.
Central also had a fourth-place finish in singles from freshman Max Shaffer, and freshman Brady Stack placed sixth. The top six finishers in singles and doubles advance to state, and Stack’s victory in the consolation semifinals guaranteed Central would qualify its entire team for state.
Salina South’s Carson Harris finished third in singles and will his team’s lone representative at state. The only loss for the Cougar senior came in the semifinals to eventual champion Hayden Brauer of Valley Center.
Harris finished his day with a 6-3, 6-3 win over Central’s Shaffer in the third-place match. Harris lost to Shaffer in a super tiebreaker earlier this week at the league meet.
“I did better than I expected in my mind,” Harris said. “Max Shaffer from Central is a very good opponent and he won when we played earlier. There was a little bit of pressure during that match but now that it’s over, I can focus more on next week.”
“Carson made it to state last year and I know it was a big goal of his to get back this year,” South coach Ryan Stuart said. “With the depth of this field in singles, to be able to do that and finish third is quite an accomplishment.
“That final match may have been his best win of the season and it should help him build momentum going into state next week.”