Tommy Johnson had to leave town to topple one of the best in town.
Johnson, the top singles player on the Lawrence High boys tennis team, had a pesky nemesis in Free State sophomore Keith Pipkin. Before Tuesday's Sunflower League Tournament at Shawnee Mission East, Johnson had come up short against Pipkin every time the two met, including an 8-6 loss in the city dual April 12 at Free State.
Call it perseverance, determination, a subpar match from Pipkin or just a great day for Johnson. But Johnson's 8-5 victory over Pipkin in the consolation bracket was a refreshing step in the right direction for the LHS junior.
"I got a chance to play him," Johnson said, "and beating him really motivated me."
Johnson fared well in a tough No. 1 singles bracket, going 3-1 and taking fifth place. As a team, Lawrence High and Free State tied for seventh place, along with Leavenworth, scoring 24 points. Shawnee Mission East won the league title with the maximum 52 points, taking first place in all four brackets.
The Lions did better than expected, pleasing coach Dick Wedel. Along with Johnson's solid day, sophomore Ryan Robinson took sixth in No. 2 singles, and the No. 1 doubles team of Noah Welch and Sam Goodell placed eighth.
"I feel better about the way we played today than any other match all year," Wedel said. "The way people competed, the attitude, the things they said when they came off about why they lost ... I think they were all right on target."
FSHS was led by senior Bryan Maygers, who beat Robinson 8-0 in his final match to claim fifth place in No. 2 singles.
Maygers won his first match over SM North's Ryan Daveron, then lost to eventual champion Lake Wooten of SM East. From there, it was two straight wins over SM West's Raj Sharmachayra and Robinson to cap a solid day.
"I haven't played a lot of singles this year," Maygers said. "I'm happy with it, because the way the draw worked out, I think it's the best I could expect to do."
Pipkin played No. 1 singles for the Firebirds and placed seventh. The No. 2 doubles team of Charles Guard and Cody Young also placed seventh after a 2-2 day.
Both city schools will play in a Class 6A regional Monday at Kossover Tennis Center in Topeka. The top four finishers in each bracket will advance to the Class 6A state tournament in Emporia starting May 21.
"To be in the middle of the best conference in the state," Wedel said, "I'm really pleased with that."