Free State tennis secures 8-1 win over Lawrence High in City Showdown
photo by: Chance Parker
In a way, the No. 1 doubles match between Free State and Lawrence High boys tennis was symbolic of Tuesday’s City Showdown at LHS.
Free State’s doubles tandem of George Thornton and Ben Melvin have practiced with Lawrence High’s duo of Drew Dean and Cuyler Dunn for several years now. So, even though Tuesday’s installment of the longstanding event marked the first official meeting between the two squads, that familiarity served to make the match incredibly competitive.
In the end, it was the FSHS pair that secured a 8-5 victory on a day where Free State recorded a 8-1 team win in its dual with Lawrence.
“I thought we competed pretty well,” said Melvin, who is a senior. “We know their games well and we knew what we had to do to win. But definitely playing LHS is a more pressure match, so you just have to show up and I thought we did that today.”
Melvin and Thornton certainly showed up to start, racing out to a 4-1 advantage early on in the doubles match. The Lions seemed to get settled in after that, however, as Dean and Dunn began hitting their stride.
It set the stage for some high-pressure situations toward the end of the match. FSHS remained composed, though the doubles tandem didn’t really start to feel comfortable until it grabbed a 7-5 lead.
“It was a big game for us,” Melvin said. “If it went 6-all, you never know what could happen.”
Thornton credited their mindset for winning that crucial game, as neither player let their partner get too down on themselves. They would bump racquets in support and offer words of encouragement whenever something didn’t go their way.
“We just think in our own game and support each other throughout the match,” Thornton said.
LHS kept the pressure on throughout the final game, though. Dean had a nice shot down the sideline for a point. Dunn answered a strike from Thornton down the middle on a play that seemed destined to be a point for Free State.
FSHS eventually claimed the final point after Dean’s ball landed in the net following a strong volley from Melvin. Still, it was a promising result from the Lawrence tandem after they dug themselves into an early hole.
“What I told Drew after the match was that we are going to learn from today and beat them when it matters,” Dunn said.
photo by: Chance Parker
It truly was an important match for both doubles teams, as they have each gotten off to a strong start in the 2021 campaign. After Tuesday’s result, both duos are 7-2 to start the new season.
This is actually the first year that either of the two doubles teams have officially played together. Dean and Dunn of LHS have been waiting years for this opportunity, as they were slated to play together last season before spring sports was canceled due to COVID-19.
They have certainly made the most of their chance to team up this spring. Three of their seven victories came during Monday’s quadrangular at Washburn Rural, an event that showcased some of their potential and why they have aspirations of qualifying for state this year.
“It’s been going very well,” Dean said. “We’ve had two-and-half years of practicing together for doubles, so I’m happy that it’s going well. But it’s not shocking.”
That’s also because Dean and Dunn both complement each other quite well on the tennis court. Dean, a senior, is the consistent shot maker, and has a knack for getting the ball where it needs to go. Dunn, a sophomore, then has the freedom to make the play when it needs to be made.
“I really love playing with Drew, he’s one of my best friends,” Dunn said. “I think our styles are compatible and I think our personalities are compatible. We’ve had a good season, and I’m really looking forward to the rest of it. Trying to enjoy every moment.”
Free State’s tandem of Melvin and Thornton has been just as effective this spring.
They both are active on their feet throughout the match, and will move up to the net to make a play when needed. They both do a good job serving as well, with Thornton being the one who came up with clutch serves down the stretch against LHS.
“We are doing pretty good,” Thornton said. “We’ve played some tight games that shouldn’t have been tight, but we’ve pushed through them well. We are just a good team right now. We are hitting well and playing together well.”
Free State’s only two losses this year have been to teams who posted high finishes in the postseason two years ago. Yet the Firebirds are confident that the early challenges on their schedule will help prepare them for this postseason.
“Tennis season isn’t very long,” Melvin said. “The more pressure situations you can have, you can use them later on in the season.”
Melvin found himself in another intense battle in singles play, when he faced Dunn during the No. 2 singles match.
Melvin hit his stride in the middle of the match with hard-hit balls that Dunn simply wasn’t able to get to. Dunn then decided to change up his plan of attack, hitting higher and deeper balls with more topspin in order to get Melvin out of his comfort zone.
It worked, as Dunn wrapped up a 8-5 win and let out a roar of approval once Melvin’s final hit sailed out of bounds.
“There is a little bit of a pride thing when you are playing one of your buddies,” Dunn said. “I think it definitely gives you a boost of confidence that you can beat someone who is one of your rivals in the city.”
Dunn’s victory proved to be Lawrence’s only varsity win of the day. FSHS won all three doubles matches and five singles matches in the rivalry dual.
Minh Vu and Jake Hedges of FSHS earned a 8-5 win over Ryan Hardie and Ayden Ammann in No. 2 doubles. Owen Thompson and Britton Snyder secured a 8-3 victory in No. 3 doubles against Diego Klish and Sam Lopez.
In No. 1 singles, Snyder won his match against Klish by an 8-1 margin. Thornton tallied a 8-6 win over Dean in No. 3 singles, while Jake Hedges recorded a 8-1 win over Lawrence’s Carson Toews in No. 4 singles. Vu (8-3) and Thompson (8-6) also recorded wins in No. 5 and No. 6 singles, respectively.
The Firebirds also won 16 junior varsity matches, while the Lions earned five such victories.
Free State will travel to a meet at College Boulevard Activity Center at 3 p.m. Wednesday, and Lawrence will compete in a meet at Kossover Tennis Center on Tuesday.