Archive for Tuesday, October 22, 2002

Firebirds, that’s the way the tennis ball bounces

October 22, 2002


For once, the Kansas State High School Athletics Association has a rule that, no matter how Free State High tennis fans feel, makes sense.

Sort of.

The Firebirds swept the singles and doubles titles at Saturday's 6A state tennis tournament in Emporia. Senior Emily Wang defended her singles title, and the doubles team of seniors Emily Loewen and Lacey Luina won its first.

Yet, Blue Valley North was awarded the team title.

I know you're saying, "This makes sense how?"

You see, Loewen, Luina and Wang were Free State's only qualifiers, but the Mustangs qualified two singles players and two doubles teams. Each team totaled 32 points, but BVN won the title because of the extra qualifiers.

"The way the system is set up, I do agree with the tiebreaker," FSHS coach Jon Renberger said. "The fact that we won both the singles and doubles titles makes this year a little odd."

It's a rule that rewards quantity over quality, or, rewards a deeper team with more high-caliber players than a team with a couple of studs. It keeps one team from dominating team titles by just having a few players that smoke everyone else.

Amazing too, because since the boys' and girls' state tournaments started awarding team titles in the 1985-86 school year, this had never happened, at least when determining the champion.

It happened to Free State in 1999 when their girls' team tied for second with Blue Valley Northwest. Yet that year, the Firebirds were the benefactors because of the extra qualifiers. (Oddly, the champion that season was Blue Valley North.)

But never when a school has swept singles and doubles has it lost the team title.

That's what makes this pill tough to swallow.

Tougher still, it would've been Free State's first-ever state championship in any sport, a barrier Renberger was hoping to break.

"This drew a lot of attention," he said. "A lot of coaches were sympathetic. They offered their congratulations, but they knew it was going to be a tough pill to know that we had the best players in the state, and not take home the title."

So if this has happened once in 17 years, does the system need tweaking? Uh, yes.

Renberger proposed a system similar to Missouri's, where a state tournament, much like Kansas' current system, is held one weekend, then another is held the next weekend. That match would be between teams, where No. 1, 2 and 3 singles are played, then Nos. 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 doubles are played.

In that format, a team like FSHS could play its best players at all the singles positions, then have them play doubles too. The depth is still a factor, but the emphasis of the best players isn't reduced.

Is it more fair? Probably. The better team would undoubtedly win the head-to-head matchup, instead of relying on a rule to determine the winner.

And don't we want the players to determine the winner, not a seldom-used rule?

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