PRAIRIE VILLAGE Free State High girls tennis coach Jon Renberger is getting greedy.
The Firebirds won No. 1 singles, No. 2 singles and No. 1 doubles to capture the Sunflower League title at Shawnee Mission East on Tuesday for Free State's third consecutive league title. Rather than celebrate, Renberger is thinking 2002 with half his team returning.
"The future looks bright," said Renberger, coach at FSHS since the school opened in 1997. "I hate to win our third one in a row and already look ahead to next year, but we've got things rolling pretty well. I'm proud the way the program has developed and the direction it's going."
The Firebirds compiled 45 points to beat Shawnee Mission East, which finished with 40. The Lancers finished second in all four divisions the two singles brackets and two doubles brackets.
"Clearly, we and East are the two strongest teams in the league," Renberger said. "They had their teams in all of the finals. I knew it would come down to how we competed in the final match. Champions step up under pressure. That was evident in No. 1 doubles."
When the No. 1 doubles final match started, the league title was still undecided. Free State juniors Emily Loewen and Lacey Luina dropped the first set to SM East's Lauren Uhlmann and Mimi Black, 5-7. The Firebird duo rallied in the final two sets, winning 6-1, 6-2.
Between the second and third set of the No. 1 doubles match all the other matches were complete and Free State had clinched. During a break, Renbeger notified Loewen and Luina of the news.
"I decided it would take a little bit of the overall pressure off so they could relax and enjoy the moment and not feel like they had the pressure of the entire team," Renberger said. "I think that helped them. They continued to play aggressively. They obviously earned that win."
The Free State doubles team, now 18-7, appreciated Renberger's up-to-date information.
"We focused and we thought it'd be important on the team finish, then coach told us that we had won and that took the pressure off," Loewen said.
In singles, FSHS junior Emily Wang and FSHS senior Susie Epp dominated. Wang didn't lose a game in her first two matches and beat SM East's Jen Brake, 6-2, 6-2, in the No. 1 singles final to improve her record to 25-1.
"My goal was to win it again," said Wang, who has won back-to-back No. 1 singles titles at league following a No. 2 singles title her freshman year. "I was being consistent, extending my hands a lot and keeping the ball in play. Playing with the wind helped because that was a factor."
Epp lost just one game in her first two sets and bounced SM East's Holly Bawden, 6-0, 6-2, in the No. 2 singles final. Epp closed her league career with two consecutive No. 2 singles titles. She was part of a winning No. 1 doubles team her sophomore year.
Epp is unsure if she'll play singles or doubles at regional next week.
"I like to play singles more, but if doubles means I have a better chance to go to state I'd rather play doubles," Epp said.
Free State's No. 2 doubles team of Emily McWilliams and Jenna Sheldon-Sherman finished third to improve to 10-9.
Lawrence High, which placed fourth with 27 points, was led by senior Maria Salcedo. She went 2-1 and placed third in No. 2 singles.
"Maria seduces her opponents," LHS coach Dick Wedel said. "She kind of plays softball with them and then bang, she pops one. She's so tenacious."
Host school Olathe East placed third, five points ahead of LHS.
"If anybody told me at 7 a.m. that we'd take fourth, I would have kissed them," Wedel said.
Free State is scheduled to play at Gardner-Edgerton on Thursday before heading to the Class 6A regional at Lawrence Tennis Center on Monday. LHS is the host school for the seven-team regional.