Firebirds 2nd, Lions tie for 7th at Sunflower League boys tennis tournament

photo by: Chris Duderstadt

Free State's Sawyer Nickel hits a return during the quarterfinals of the Sunflower League boys tennis tournament on Thursday at the College Boulevard Activity Center. Nickel defeated Billy Louiselle, 8-4, en route to finishing fourth in singles play.

OLATHE — If the Free State boys tennis team had any chance of dethroning Shawnee Mission East at the Sunflower League tournament on Thursday at the College Boulevard Activity Center, Sawyer Nickel knew that he might have a big say in it with potentially two crucial matches against the Lancers.

After starting the day 2-0, Nickel notched a signature 8-4 win over SM East’s Billy Louiselle in the quarterfinals. Nickel felt another win coming against Jake Louiselle in the third-place match until a hip injury took him out of his groove in an 8-3 loss.

With SM East’s doubles teams meeting in the title match, Nickel and the Firebirds went on to be the runners-up to the Lancers for the second straight year.

“I’m proud of our team. We executed pretty well,” Nickel said. “We had a couple of matches that we should have won, but overall we played super well.”

Nickel was at the top of his game late in the quarterfinals against Billy Louiselle. The Free State No. 1 singles player placed his groundstrokes where he wanted them, and said that he had the right mind-set to break Louiselle’s serve to take control.

“I just kept my head in it. I just made sure that I was playing the right way and not letting the circumstance get into my head,” Nickel said. “I just played the way I wanted to play and I went out and executed the way I wanted. Things just started clicking about halfway through the match and I just went out and put it away.”

Next up for Nickel was a showdown against Olathe West’s Brett Seaton — who was the Class 6A state runner-up in singles last as a freshman at Olathe Northwest. The standout sophomore coasted to an 8-0 win over Nickel before falling to SM Northwest junior Nam Pham, 8-4, in the title match.

“He’s a great player. We’re good friends,” Nickel said. “He doesn’t miss the ball and he gets a lot of torque on the ball. It makes a big difference and he’s mentally there.”

Nickel and Davis Steadman finished fourth and 17th, respectively, for the Firebirds in singles play. Erik Czapinski — who won last year’s league doubles crown with Nickel — paired up with Trey Melvin to take third after outlasting Lawrence High’s Kanak Masten and Cooper Wright, 8-7 (2), in a tiebreaker.

Czapinski and Melvin posted a 3-1 record with their lone loss coming against the SM East doubles team of Leatherwood/Tilton by the score of 8-4.

Jack Kelsey and Sam Six also medaled after placing ninth. Kelsey and Sam Six rattled off three straight wins to close out the tournament.

The Firebirds finished with 83 points, while the Lancers won it with a team score of 105.

“Everybody did what they were supposed to do,” Nickel said. “I’m really excited about what this team can do the rest of the year.”

Despite falling just short against Czapinski and Melvin, Wright and Masten felt good about their play throughout the tournament to earn their fourth-place finish. Wright and Masten guided the Lions to a tie for seventh place in the team standings with 61 points.

“We played pretty well today. I’m happy with the way we played,” Wright said. “In the fourth-place match, we didn’t end up winning, but we lost 8-1 to them before. So we obviously played a whole lot better.”

There were three keys to success for Wright and Masten, who were seeded fifth in the doubles bracket.

“Serving well and volleying — two are the two main things,” Masten said. “And communicating. We did a lot better today.”

Ryan Logan and Stephen Teska added a 25th-place finish in the doubles bracket for LHS. In singles play, Drew Dean and Remi Eakin finished 12th and 14th, respectively.

As the No. 16 seed, Eakin was able to push past SM West’s Nathan Rongish in the first round, but had to face Pham in the second. Dean won one the the closest matches of the day, as he edged Olathe Northwest’s Alex Burnham, 8-7 (6), in a tiebreaker.

“It was a good day,” Wright said. “It was a long day, but we played well and I’m really happy.”

Sunflower League boys tennis tournament

Thursday at the College Boulevard Activity Center

Team scores — 1. Shawnee Mission East 105, 2. Free State 83, 3. Shawnee Mission Northwest 73, 4. Olathe Northwest 67, 5. Olathe West 66, 6. Olathe North 65, T-7. Lawrence 61, T-7. Shawnee Mission South 61, 9. Olathe South 59, 10. Shawnee Mission West 55, 11. Gardner Edgerton 33, 12. Leavenworth 32, T-13. Olathe East 26, T-13. Shawnee Mission North 26.

Free State results

Sawyer Nickel fourth place — Nickel def. Mateo Castro, LV; Nickel def. Alex Burnham, ONW, 8-2; Nickel def. Billy Louiselle, SME, 8-4; Brett Seaton, OW, def. Nickel, 8-0; Jake Louiselle, SME, def. Nickel, 8-3.

Davis Steadman 17th place — Tolu Gbile, ONW, def. Steadman; Steadman def. Cameron Peck, SMN, 8-1; Steadman def. Mason Zeller, SMS, 8-6; Steadman def. Kole Nhingsavath, GE, 8-0; Steadman def. Luke Johnson, SMN, 8-1.

Erik Czapinski/Trey Melvin third place — Bye; Czapinski/Melvin def. Bender/Sturdivan, OW; Czapinski/Melvin def. Gao/Mitts, SMNW, 8-1; Leatherwood/Tilton, SME, def. Czapinski/Melvin, 8-4; Czapinski/Melvin def. Wright/Masten, LHS, 8-7 (2).

Jack Kelsey/Sam Six ninth place — Kelsey/Six def. Belanger/Zeller, SMS, 8-5; Frier/Lauridsen, ONW, def. Kelsey/Six; Kelsey/Six def. Darpel/Tomasic, SMNW, 8-4; Kelsey/Six def. Rito/Samuel, ON, 8-1; Kelsey/Six def. Kaiser/Judy, SMW, 8-4.

Lawrence High results

Remi Eakin 14th place — Eakin def. Nathan Rongish, SMW; Nam Pham, SMNW, def. Eakin, 8-0; Carter Lichtsinn, OW, def. Eakin, 8-2; Eakin def. Tolu Gbile, ONW, 8-5; Barrera, LV, def. Eakin, 8-4.

Drew Dean 12th place — Dean def. Mason Zeller, SMS; Jake Louiselle, SME, def. Dean; Dean def. Tolu Gbile, ONW, 8-7 (6); Alex Burnham, ONW, def. Dean, 8-3.

Kanak Masten/Cooper Wright fourth place — Masten/Wright def. Sweat/Kempker, OE, 8-1; Masten/Wright def. Williams/Sherman, GE; Masten/Wright def. Rope/Gatti, SMS, 8-6; Fenton/Eason, SME, def. Masten/Wright, 8-1; Czapinski/Melvin, FS, def. Masten/Wright, 8-7 (2).

Ryan Logan/Stephen Teska 25th place — Williams/Sherman, GE, def. Logan/Teska, 8-6; Sweat/Kempker, OE, def. Logan/Teska, 8-7 (4); Logan/Teska def. Serrano/Ahlers, ON, 8-3; Logan/Teska def. Chapman/Robinette, LV, 8-6.