Overland Park After 11 and a half hours of action, three or four trips inside and back out and countless aces and out calls, the Free State High boys tennis team came up one point short.
Thursday afternoon at a Sunflower League tennis tournament that more resembled a scavenger hunt than a tennis tournament, Free State battled for a first, two seconds and a third and finished second in the team standings behind Shawnee Mission East, 46-45.
“I think we were as close this year to knocking them off as anybody has been,” said FSHS coach John Richey of nearly knocking off the perennial powerhouse Lancers. “It’s usually just a given that they’re going to steamroll over everybody.”
The Lancers didn’t run over everybody. But in three head-to-head matches with the Firebirds, they did enough to top their biggest threat.
East picked up a pair of victories against Free State in the championship matches of the No. 1 and No. 2 doubles brackets. That proved to be especially big because an extra point is given to the team or player that wins the title in each bracket.
Despite the losses, both Free State doubles teams enjoyed breakout performances at the league meet.
No. 1 doubles partners Blaine Kaehr and Dravid Joseph finished the day 2-1 and dropped their first two opponents by a combined score of 16-3.
The No. 2 team of Andrew Craig and Patrick Carttar also finished the day 2-1 and battled to an 8-4 loss in the finals.
The story of the day for the Firebirds, however, came in the No. 2 singles bracket, where foreign exchange student Rodolfo Gauto Mariotti breezed through four rounds to take the league title.
After receiving a bye in the first round, Gauto Mariotti dropped his next three opponents (8-1, 8-2 and 8-0).
Despite shutting out his opponent in the title match, Gauto Mariotti said the final was his most challenging match of the day.
“You never know what you’re going to find here,” Gauto Mariotti said. “You could find an exchange student who could kick your butt so you have to be ready for everything. I knew it was important to win for my team so I tried my best.”
When asked if the league title might lead to special recognition in his native Paraguay, Gauto Mariotti laughed and said: “Maybe if I do something crazy like win state or something. But probably not.”
In No. 1 singles action, junior Michael Swank also finished the day with a 2-1 record. Unfortunately for Swank, who entered the tourney seeded third, the loss came at the wrong time.
After breezing by his first opponent, 8-0, Swank fell to eventual champion Kevin Moore of SM North, 8-5, in the semifinals. Although he responded by winning the third-place match, 8-1, Swank was noticeably disappointed afterwards, particularly when learning that his team had missed out on a league title by one point.
In other city action Thursday, Lawrence High finished eighth in the team standings and had just one Lion, No. 2 singles player Thomas Zheng, close the day with a victory. Zheng won his final match by outlasting Ryan Hoang, of Olathe South, 8-7 and 12-10 in the tiebreaker.
Ryan Abbott, LHS’s No. 1 singles player, won his first match and then lost three straight to finish eighth. Both doubles teams (No. 1 Taylor Seratte and Will Conley and No. 2 Michael Sang and Byron Varberg) also finished eighth.
Although the two teams finished at different spots in the standings, both were forced to fight through unusual circumstances just to finish the tourney.
After beginning the day at 7 a.m. by working on rain-soaked courts in hopes of playing, the tourney was moved indoors. Half of the field, the singles players, were shipped to the Kansas City Racquet Club. The doubles players were sent to indoor courts at Woodside Country Club.
Because court space was limited at both locations, things dragged on, forcing meet officials to consider moving some of the action back outside as the courts began to dry.
Seratte’s road to eighth place best sums up the action.
“Our first two matches were inside,” Seratte said. “Then we squeegeed off a court and tried to play outside again but were moved inside at Woodside for our third match. For our fourth, we started outside at Harmon Park and then had to finish it here (Racquet Club).”
Added LHS coach Steve Hudson: “I’ve never seen anything like it in my coaching career.”
Next up for the Lions and Firebirds is a Class 6A regional next Thursday.