The historic run continues.
In a season in which Lawrence High's girls tennis team knocked off cross-town rival Free State for the first time in school history, the Lions qualified their No. 1 doubles team for the Class 6A state meet by finishing fourth at Thursday's regional tournament at the Lawrence Tennis Center.
Juniors Elizabeth Simons and Jordan Payne breezed through their first two matches - knocking off the No. 13 seed from Olathe Northwest, 6-2 and 6-4, and defeating the No. 5 seed from Olathe East, 6-1 and 6-2.
The victory marked the first time under LHS coach Steve Hudson that any LHS girl had qualified for state.
It was not just the LHS team that enjoyed success Thursday.
Free State's No. 1 singles player, senior Lauren Thames, also qualified for state, finishing third after winning three of four matches on the day.
Like Simons and Payne, Thames cruised through her first match of the day, setting up a rematch with Olathe South's Brittany Bassinger in the second round. Last week, at the Sunflower League meet, Bassinger beat Thames in a tiebreaker.
The early stages of Thursday's meeting showed two evenly matched players slugging it out. But after breaking Bassinger in Game 5 to take a 3-2 lead in the set, Thames never looked back. She won the next three games of the first set and four of the first six in the second set. Thames prevailed, 6-2 and 6-2, bringing electric joy to her face.
Not that the look left much all day. At one point, when Free State coach Jon Richey asked Thames how she felt midway through her victory against Bassinger, Thames flashed a huge smile and replied, "I've never been better."
"It kind of pumped me up knowing that I was playing Brittany Bassinger again," Thames said. "I wanted to prove to everyone and prove to myself that I could beat her."
After losing to eventual regional champion, Shawnee Mission Northwest's Alex Crowe, in the semifinals, Thames bounced back to defeat Olathe Northwest's Kaylee Thibault, 7-5 and 6-3, in the third-place match.
Thames overcame a number of other obstacles Thursday. First off, midway through the second set of the first round, her strings on her racket broke, causing her to play with her fallback racket. In the second round, against Bassinger, she was forced to compete against an opponent playing for the coach she had played for at an early age, former Free State coach Jon Renberger, now at Olathe South.
That, and the fact that she knew a fourth-place regional finish would pair her with a No. 1 seed in the first round of state helped Thames keep her focus through the finish.
"That's definitely what pushed me through," she said. "I did not want to finish fourth. Those first two matches are so critical to getting to state. Because if you lose one of them your season's over. I was definitely anxious early on, but it's a great feeling to get third. I did not want to finish fourth."
For Simons, who missed qualifying for state by a one match last year, the achievement was the perfect topping to a season's worth of hard work.
"That was of our goal going into today," Simons said. "Get to state. And it feels great because I know we've accomplished so much this year."
LHS coach Steve Hudson said that was the aspect of his top doubles team's performance that made him the most proud.
"No two players could deserve it more," he said. "They've really jelled this year and have come together as a team. Plus they just played smarter and smarter each time out. It's very rewarding for me as a coach. It's been a year of feel-good moments for us."
In other regional action Thursday, both of Free State's doubles teams - Ashley Stagg/Kelly Phipps and Liz Wolters/Jordan Koch - lost in the first round, as did Free State's No. 2 singles player, Mackenzie Lown, and Lawrence High's No. 1 and No. 2 singles players, Jamie Jarrett and Julia Harris.
The surprise of the day, might have come from LHS's No. 2 doubles team of Brittany Long and Morgan Manger, which knocked off Leavenworth in the first round, 3-6, 7-6 (13-11) and 6-4.
The first-round victory by the tournament's No. 11 seed was not as surprising as the length of the match. After getting started around 10:15 a.m., Long and Manger wrapped up the match a little after 1 p.m.
"After the first set, it was kind of iffy," Long said. "But then we figured out what we needed to do and went out and did it."
Both said the victory was worth it, but the three-hour match certainly took its toll, as the duo lost its next match 6-0 and 6-2 and fell one match shy of qualifying for state.
"Mentally, we were pretty good," Manger said. "But physically, (we were) a little tired."