Maize Saturday victories earned three city tennis players top-10 finishes at the Class 6A state tournament.
Lawrence High sophomore Thomas Irick won two of his three matches to take seventh place, and Free State’s doubles team of senior Nick Pellett and junior Richard Lu went 1-2 and finished 10th.
Irick beat Manhattan’s Jake Seaton, 9-1, to advance to the consolation semifinals. That’s where he met eventual fifth-place medalist Matt Rodgers, of Blue Valley West, and lost, 9-7. The Lions sophomore bounced back to beat Olathe North’s Austin Crist, 9-4, in the seventh-place match.
Irick described the day as a grind, especially with the challenge Rodgers provided.
“Matt, he’s really good,” Irick said of his second opponent. “We just both played our hearts out, and it came down to literally two points where I made errors and couldn’t convert.”
That didn’t mean he couldn’t appreciate the battle. Irick said the match against Rodgers was the highlight of his weekend.
“It was neck-and-neck the whole time, and it was a lot of fun,” Irick said. “It was disappointing to lose, but it was good to go out there and play someone so good that you can still feel all right even though you lost.”
Irick didn’t place in his state debut as a freshman.
LHS coach Chris Marshall said Lawrence’s top singles player is steadily developing.
“The thing is, it’s a progression step,” Marshall said of Irick’s seventh-place finish. “Last year the step was to get there, this year it was to medal. Each year we’re gonna try to take the next step to the top.”
Irick’s consistency and tennis knowledge, the coach added, have made him successful.
“Even if Thomas isn’t having his best day, he’s still going to win points and figure out how to do well,” Marshall said.
In the words of Free State coach Oather Strawderman, Pellett and Lu had their “ups and downs” on Day 2 of the state tournament.
First, the FSHS doubles team lost to Washburn Rural’s Scott Ziegler and Griff Koupal, 9-3. Then Pellett and Lu beat Olathe Northwest’s Trevor May and Dominic Fabiano in a tiebreaker, 9-8 (11-9). Finally, the Firebirds lost to Blue Valley Northwest’s Logan Roberts and Vignesh Raghurgman, 9-7, in a rematch from Friday.
The BVNW duo beat Free State, 6-0, 6-3, the day before. Pellett said he and Lu were disappointed with that outcome and more competitive in the ninth-place match.
“We knew it was our last match,” Pellett said, “so we gave it all we had.”
Pellett said he and Lu played better than they had all year. Lu agreed.
“Playing well in that last match was definitely better than getting 10th,” the junior said.
It helped, Lu added, that they had just defeated ONW for the third time this season, fighting off three Northwest chances at match points in a tight tiebreaker.
“We came in with a lot of energy,” Lu said. “Last match of the season, you’ve gotta finish it off right.”
Strawderman said Pellett and Lu played better Saturday.
“To finish top 10,” the FSHS coach said, “that’s a great accomplishment.”