Firebirds 4th, Lions 12th at 6A boys state tennis tournament
TOPEKA — The points weren’t going in the favor of Free State’s Erik Czapinski and Trey Melvin late in their third-place doubles match at the Class 6A state tournament on Saturday at the Kossover Tennis Center, but that didn’t change Czapinski’s demeanor.
Czapinski’s upbeat attitude helped fuel his and Melvin’s success throughout the season, so he didn’t feel any need to change things up. The Firebirds weren’t able to upend Blue Valley Northwest’s Brent Fallon/Alex Downing and BV West’s Nick Moody/Dylan Yan on Saturday after reaching the semifinals, but Czapinski remained all smiles.
“I’m a pretty negative person and he’s all positive, happy and smiles,” said Melvin of Czapinski. “We balance each other out evenly. I got happy sometimes when I played well, and we just balanced each other out.”
Melvin and Czapinski lost to Fallon/Downing, 6-1, 6-1, and Moody/Yan, 6-4, 6-1, but paced the Firebirds to fourth place. Blue Valley West went on to edge SM East by two points for the state crown. It was a win over Shawnee Mission East’s No. 2 doubles team of Hayden Leatherwood/Jacob Tilton at regionals that set the tone for the Firebirds double tandem before the state tournament even started.
“Yesterday we had a bye first round. Mainly the win at regionals against Shawnee Mission East really, really helped us because if we lost that match, our draw would have been significantly harder,” Czapinski said. “We would have run into (Blue Valley) Northwest a round earlier and potentially not been top four. That’s kind of the whole luck of the draw sort of thing.
“Ten years from now, no one is going to remember what the draw was like. They’re going to remember that Erik Czapinski and Trey Melvin got fourth at state.”
Czapinski was pleased with his groundstrokes throughout the tournament and had some extra juice at times on his serve, and as usual, he worked his magic at the net.
“From a young age, I couldn’t always hit the ball hard. I found comfort in being close to the net and closer to the ball,” Czapinski said. “The face people make when you make a crazy good ball and they stare at you and say, ‘How did he make that?’ And everyone is talking about it off the court. It’s kind of what drove me when I was younger to get really good at the net.”
Melvin was Czapinski’s third doubles partner in four years of high school tennis. Next up for Czapinski is the opportunity to play collegiate tennis at Ottawa University.
“I’m really glad it worked out this way. It’s something that like 3 percent of high school tennis players get a college scholarship for tennis,” Czapinski said. “I’ve worked about 10 years for this. It’s crazy. It all just clicked together in a matter of months. All of the work finally paid off. For me it was just to finish better and hopefully Trey will walk home with a medal, too.”
For Melvin, he’s not sure about how things will shake out for his senior season next year, but that won’t impact how he prepares for it.
“I think it’s a great experience, but it doesn’t stop here,” Melvin said. “I’ve got to keep working to improve my game for the next level and whatever I do next year.”
Lawrence High’s Wright/Masten, Free State’s Nickel finish 9th
Lawrence High junior Cooper Wright and sophomore Kanak Masten had one point of emphasis while preparing to play in the state tournament for the first time over the weekend: don’t try to do too much.
Wright and Masten didn’t let the bigger stage impact their play, as they finished ninth in the doubles bracket.
“Really the key was just playing smart — like just trying not to over-hit the ball and place the ball where it needs to go and making shots,” Wright said after helping the Lions to 12th place. “With that, we would be good. That’s what we did. That’s how we got to Day 2.”
The LHS doubles team dropped its first match of Day 2 to Leatherwood/Tilton, 9-3, but bounced back to grind out a 9-7 win over Washburn Rural’s Landon Schmidt/Will Baker. Wright and Masten kept the momentum rolling into the ninth-place match against Derby’s Clayton Simmons/Daniel Dunn.
The Lions were on the cusp of breaking Derby’s serve late in the match to all but seal the win. Wright and Masten jumped out to a love-40 lead, but hit three straight unforced errors to bring it back to deuce. Masten and Wright got some help with a double fault to get another game point, and then outlasted Simmons and Dunn in a rally to win it.
“We try not to worry too much about errors. Sometimes they hit a lucky shot or we miss a shot that probably should go in or something,” Wright said. “It’s fine with us. Most of the time we can bounce back.”
One aspect of Wright and Masten’s play that LHS coach Chris Marshall was pleased about was how they made adjustments with matches. The Lions encountered a number of different styles of play throughout the tournament.
“We just had to read the teams. We would have to play like one, two, three games to see how the teams played,” Wright said. “That’s why we would kind of get off to slow starts sometimes because we didn’t know the team and then we would adapt there and start playing a lot better.”
While Wright and Masten were able to reflect on how much progress they made as a doubles team, they didn’t want to just look in the past.
“The goal for next year is to get top five,” Masten said. “It’s a good experience.”
The ninth-place medal from the singles bracket went to Free State’s Sawyer Nickel. The Free State junior lost his first match on Saturday in a tiebreaker, 9-8 (7-5), to Olathe North’s Manas Madhira, but bounced back for back-to-back wins over Blue Valley’s Max Wang and Olathe North’s Noah Crist to round out the tournament. Nickel defeated Wang, 9-2, and Crist, 9-6.
“I was happy with my play in most of the matches — even in the ones I lost. Wins and losses don’t really matter at these tournaments,” Nickel said. “Placing higher makes you feel better, obviously, but the experience was fun and I just wanted to play my game. Coming out and playing well; it was humbling.”
Day 2 of the state tournament offered to regionals rematches for Nickel and Madhira and Crist. While Nickel said it was nice to have an idea of what to expect while battling the fatigue of the second day, he still had to remain on his toes.
“Every day brings a new challenge,” Nickel said. “Every player can play differently, but knowing the opponent and most of their mannerisms is helpful.”
In the ninth-place match, Crist was able to get up to the net late in the match to make Nickel roam the baseline. Nickel was able to remain in the rallies, though, since he didn’t have a weak side for Crist to hit to.
“I’m loving my backhand right now,” Nickel said. “I felt like a really hit my backhand well this weekend. It really helped me out.”
6A boys tennis state tournament
Saturday at Kossover Tennis Center in Topeka
Team scores — 1. Blue Valley West, 47; 2. Shawnee Mission East, 45; 3. Blue Valley Northwest, 26; 4. Free State, 21; 5. Manhattan, 15; T-6. Olathe North, 14; T-6. Shawnee Mission Northwest, 14; T-6. Washburn Rural, 14; T-9. Blue Valley North, 10; T-9. Derby, 10; 11. Garden City, 9; 12. Lawrence High, 7; 13. Blue Valley, 5; T-14. Haysville-Campus, 2; T-14. Olathe South, 2; T-14. Shawnee Mission South, 2; T-14. Wichita Northwest, 2; T-14. Wichita South, 14; 19. Dodge City, 1.
Saturday’s area results
Free State’s Trey Melvin/Erik Czapinski, fourth place — Brent Fallon/Alex Downing, Blue Valley Northwest, def. Melvin/Czapinski, 6-1, 6-1; Nick Moody/Dylan Yan, Blue Valley West, def. Melvin/Czapinski, 6-4, 6-1.
Lawrence High’s Kanak Masten/Cooper Wright, ninth place — Hayden Leatherwood/Jacob Tilton, Shawnee Mission East, def. Masten/Wright, 9-3; Masten/Wright def. Landon Schmidt/Will Baker, Washburn Rural, 9-7; Masten/Wright def. Clayton Simmons/Daniel Dunn, Derby, 9-5.
Free State’s Sawyer Nickel, ninth place — Manas Madhira, Olathe North, def. Sawyer Nickel, 9-8 (7-5); Sawyer Nickel def. Max Wang, Blue Valley, 9-2; Sawyer Nickel def. Noah Crist, Olathe North, 9-6.