Topeka — In his final match of the season, Lawrence High junior Thomas Irick looked across the net Saturday afternoon at Kossover Tennis Center to see a familiar, typically friendly face on the opposite side of the court.
But Olathe North’s Austin Crist and Irick both aimed to finish the Class 6A state tournament with a victory, so neither played with a particularly chummy demeanor in the seventh-place match.
It was their third meeting since April 25 and second this week, and it showed throughout the one-set match. First Crist, who beat Irick for a regional championship on Monday, won two games. Then Irick, who knocked off Crist at the Sunflower League Tournament a couple weeks back, countered by taking three games in a row. So it went until Crist finished the match with a four-game streak and prevailed, 9-5.
Though Irick considers Crist a good friend — they both play in USTA tournaments in the summer — the match got contentious at times, as the two disputed points in the fifth and sixth games. Part of what made it heated, no doubt, was the rematch factor. Last year at state, Irick beat Crist, 9-4, in the seventh-place match.
“He’s got in a lot more court time than I have over the past year,” Irick admitted, “and he’s gotten a lot better, so that makes things more difficult for me.”
Six of the 11 games went to deuce, with each player winning three. After Irick took two straight such games to tie the match, 5-5, Crist kept Irick from picking up any more games.
“The momentum of that match switched back and forth so many times,” Irick said. “He got that next game and got another one and I kept trying, but his balls seemed to land in a little closer to the line than mine.”
Irick ended up eighth at state after losing in the consolation semifinals, 9-3, to Blue Valley’s Anil Patel, who won the 5A state title at Lansing in 2012. The Lawrence junior fell into a 5-0 hole against Patel and couldn’t catch up.
“He had a lot of spin on his ball,” Irick said, “and it took me too long to kind of get a read on them.”
After Irick went 2-1 at state on Friday, the goal on Day 2 was to win three matches and earn fifth place. LHS coach Chris Marshall said the junior, who was 1-2 Saturday, lost a few critical points in the two losses and and that rattled his confidence.
“You’re talking about someone who can punish you if you make a mistake,” Marshall said of Patel and Crist, “so I think he was putting a lot of pressure on himself trying to hit the perfect ball. Tennis is a game of errors and it’s your job to try to correct and control that situation. I think he was trying to be too much of a perfectionist.”
Irick may not have been perfect in his first match Saturday, but he cruised past Kris Snyder, of host Topeka, 9-2. Snyder had a small group of vocal fans cheering him on when the match opened, but Irick’s play quickly silenced them.
Powerful gusts of wind sent a couple of Irick’s shots off course and altered the ball’s path, but he has always been a fan of such conditions.
“It gets in other people’s heads, and it’s a huge asset when it comes down to that,” said Irick, who was glad to have at least one highly successful match.
Marshall sees Irick transitioning as a player. He is getting bigger and stronger and learning some new shots. The coach said his program’s star has the tools to fully move from a solid baseline presence to aggressive tennis in the future.
Overall, Irick went 21-10 as a junior.
“For this tournament,” he said, “I would’ve liked to do better, but it is what it is. You’ve gotta suck it up and work that much harder for next year.”