Free State girls tennis secures 6-3 win in dual with Lawrence High

photo by: Chance Parker

Lawrence Free State's Keegan VanPelt social distances as she shakes hands with Lilli Derby of Lawrence High following their set Tuesday evening at LHS on Sept. 29, 2020. The Firebirds won the city showdown by a score of 6-3.

Free State senior Keegan VanPelt took care of business in what was the final city showdown of her impressive career.

VanPelt dropped just one game overall in her two matches, earning an 8-1 win in doubles action while claiming an 8-0 sweep in singles play Tuesday afternoon at Lawrence High. It was the fourth time in as many years that VanPelt was victorious in the crosstown clash, showcasing her sensational skill set on the tennis court.

“It’s crazy, time really flies,” VanPelt said. “I just went in and said that I’m going to have fun and take it easy.”

The Firebirds won all but three varsity matches en route to a 6-3 win over the Lions in Tuesday’s dual.

VanPelt, who is the team’s top singles player, netted her first victory in this rivalry as a freshman in doubles play. She returned to the doubles court for the first time all season, teaming up with Maya Lee to defeat Lawrence’s tandem of Lilli Derby and Laura Teska in No. 1 doubles.

On the singles side, VanPelt bested Derby for the second year in a row. Yet Derby still felt like she hit the ball well, and that match served as a good measuring stick for Thursday’s Sunflower League meet.

“Just being able to play someone like that, it gets me ready for the Sunflower League,” Derby said. “That’s the level I’m going to be playing then. I’m obviously more prepared for it.”

photo by: Chance Parker

Free State’s Keegan VanPelt returns the ball Tuesday evening as they faced off against Lawrence High School at LHS on Sept. 29, 2020. The Firebirds won the city showdown by a score of 6-3.

If Tuesday was any indication, though, the Firebirds figure to have a good chance of having success against their league foes in a couple days.

FSHS switched up its lineup, but still managed to come out on top. Juniors Emma Evans and Dayna Steadman paired up together to come away with a 8-6 win in No. 2 doubles against Bella Kirkwood and Ryleigh Leon. Evans normally plays with her sister, Oliva Evans, who is also a junior.

Emma Evans will go back to teaming up with her sister in postseason play, but it showed her ability to be versatile. She had to learn Steadman’s tendencies quickly, as the two found out they were playing together on the way to LHS.

However, as the 2020 season has proved, players have had to learn to adapt while playing through a pandemic.

“You just have to be flexible the whole season to be ready to play anything,” Evans said. “We have been so lucky to be able to play this season and (be safe) this season. I think we are one of the sports that lucked out, definitely.”

In the end, Free State won all but one doubles match and recorded a victory in four of the six singles matches. VanPelt, Lee, Steadman and Jada Fowler all won their respective singles matches.

Lawrence has also had to overcome obvious obstacles this season, and that’s a testament to the senior class. The seven seniors — Derby, Teska, Leon, Kirkwood, Cat Stineman, Iris Sherron and Amanda Earnhart — were honored in the final home meet of the year by having banners of each senior on display along the fence.

It was the first year that LHS tennis had such banners, even though many other LHS programs have them. Derby’s mother actually came up with the idea to put up the banners, and eventually put the whole thing in motion. The meet ended with the seniors taking a photo by the banners.

“I’m just going to miss playing with the team,” Derby said. “It is going to be really sad when we play our last match together. I’m just going to enjoy the last few moments that we have.”

While the seniors deserve the spotlight for putting four years of hard work into the program, and leading the team through a season unlike any other, it was actually sophomore Abby Marsh who had success on the court on Tuesday.

Marsh was one of two LHS players to win both of her matches on the day. She claimed a win in No. 6 singles (8-3) and in No. 3 doubles (8-2) along with Katie Logan. Logan also recorded an 8-6 victory in No. 2 singles.

Despite the two wins, though, Marsh believes she could have done better.

After playing in a softball tournament this past weekend, Marsh had to adjust to swinging a tennis racquet instead of a softball bat. It led to rust in doubles action before she found a groove in her singles match.

“My forehand wasn’t the best, my backhand was weak I guess,” Marsh said. “During singles, it felt much better.”

Still, it highlights the potential of Marsh, who is competing at the varsity level this year after mostly playing junior varsity last season. She struggled to adjust to the better competition at first, but has since started collecting wins.

Marsh will turn her focus to her first-ever league tournament, where she is hoping to come away with at least one win. If Marsh manages to do that, it could propel her for what should be an even better junior campaign as one of Lawrence’s top players in 2021.

“She’s going to be a big player next year,” Derby said. “She is going to have to step up and take charge and be a leader on the team next year. She’s done really well.”

The Sunflower League meet is slated to start at 9 a.m. Thursday at the Olathe District Activity Center.

Free State 6, Lawrence High 3

1D: Keegan VanPelt/Maya Lee 8, Lilly Derby/Laura Teska 1

2D: Emma Evans/Dayna Steadman 8, Bella Kirkwood/Ryleigh Leon 6

3D: Olivia Evans/Jada Fowler 2, Katie Logan/Abby Marsh 8

1S: VanPelt 8, Derby 0

2S: Emma Evans 6, Logan 8

3S: Lee 8, Kirkwood 3

4S: Steadman 8, Leon 2

5S: Fowler 8, 8, Teska 6

6S: Olivia Evans 3, Marsh 8


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