Dani WIlliams and Lauren McCLain qualified for State Tennis in doubles at the Wellington regional over the weekend.
So what do you get when you have five of the top eight state-ranked tennis teams in one place? Or, during the coaches’ meeting, when 14 doubles teams are up on the board vying for the top 10 seeds? Or when the number one singles seed ends up getting fourth place? One tough regional is what you get. That scenario played out at the Wellington 4A regional this past weekend on Friday and Saturday.
Going in with high hopes for all participants, Pratt emerged from the fray with a single state qualifier in senior doubles partners Lauren McClain and Dani Williams. The girls placed 3rd out of the original 20 doubles entrants and very nearly had a shot at the championship match.
Andover Central, dropping from 5A, took top team honors with 14 points, followed by Buhler (11), Winfield (10), Wellington (7), Larned (6), Pratt and Wichita Trinity (5), Nickerson, Towanda-Circle and Ulysses (0).
Pratt’s singles players Jade Hoover and Ellie Brehm had a shot on the bracket, but fell in the early rounds to face elimination. Hoover, seeded 7th, battled sickness and a tough 10th seed from Buhler and dropped the match 6-4, 6-4 to end her season. Brehm drew in at 13 on the bracket, won a play-in match against Nickerson 9-1, then fell 6-0, 6-1 to Jessi Johnson from Larned who would end up taking 2nd place.
Doubles partners Allicia Hall and Elee Hampton secured a promising 8th seed, but had to face a determined 9th seed from Andover Central in the first round. The girls fell behind early and lost the first set 2-6, then put up a better fight in the second but lost 4-6 and were eliminated.
Coach Larry Kahmeyer praised their efforts and contributions to a successful season: “I couldn’t be more proud of how my juniors played this year. We took 1st in five of our eight meets and the highlight was winning the league championship. Nobody can take that away from them. I do think we could’ve gotten a few more qualified for state in a normal regional, but this year was very tough. Still, they should be as proud of themselves and I am of them.”
Pratt’s greatest success and lone state qualifier came from seasoned veterans McClain and Williams. McClain is a four-time state qualifier making state appearances in singles as a freshman and sophomore and in doubles her junior and senior years. Williams has been a four-year varsity player with two state appearances. The girls played doubles for the first time last year and rode the partnership all the way to a 10th place state medal.
Going in to this year’s regional, the girls were able to secure the 2nd seed based on a perfect 10-0 record. That high seed helped the girls navigate through the toughest doubles field in all of the four 4A regionals.
The first round was an easy warm-up 6-0, 6-0 match against Ulysses. The second round would prove to be much more challenging with Wellington’s tough #2 doubles team. After falling behind 5-6, the girls rallied to tie things up at 6-all, then crushed the tiebreaker 7-2 to pocket the first set. The second set was an easier 6-3 affair to advance to the semi-finals.
The next match, McClain and Williams faced off against Wellington’s #1 doubles team of Whaley & Adams, who had the 3rd seed. Pratt took the first set 7-5, then had a 5-2 match-point lead in the second. After Wellington took an equipment time-out to replace a broken shoestring, Pratt lost the game and some momentum, and Wellington climbed back to take the second set 7-6, (7-4) in a tiebreaker. With the momentum shift, Pratt could only muster a 3-6 effort in the final set to drop the match and move to the 3rd place consolation match.
In the final match for 3rd against Andover Central’s #1 team, Pratt fell behind 1-4 when coach Larry Kahmeyer had a changeover conference with his players.
“I knew Lauren and Dani were the stronger players,” explained Kahmeyer. “They were carrying over the baggage from the previous match and I challenged the girls to forget it, tough as it was. I reminded them that they were two seniors playing a freshman and sophomore and they should play like the partners they were. Boy, did they respond!”
Running off eight straight games, McClain and Williams took the first set 7-5 and took a 2-0 lead in the second, then just played it out for a 6-4 win to take 3rd.
On Friday and Saturday, the Dynamic Duo will play their final tournament together at the 4A state tournament in Topeka at the Kossover Tennis Facility starting at 11:30 a.m. Fri.