St. James Academy’s first postseason foray as a Kansas 5A school was a successful one Saturday during the St. Thomas Aquinas regional tennis tournament at Indian Creek Recreation Center.
The Thunder, who was the 4A state runner-up last year, finished first as a team and qualified both singles players and a doubles team to the 5A state meet, which begins Friday at the Kossover Tennis Center in Topeka.
“We had a week to prepare for it and I knew it was going to be tough, but we worked really hard with the girls and I prepared them well,” St. James coach Rebecca Snodgrass said. “I’m really proud of them, because I didn’t know what to expect. I just knew we had to bring our ‘A’ game, and the girls all did that. Winning the team title is an incredible thing for our first year in 5A.”
The Thunder learned Sept. 27 that the school’s enrollment had grown enough that the school was moving up to 5A, but Snodgrass didn’t let that faze her squad.
Instead, St. James sent a message.
“We’ve built this program from nothing with tennis players who don’t play year round, so I’m just proud,” Snodgrass said. “We were second in 4A last year, and this won 5A regionals. We’ve got a pretty good tennis program.”
Senior Molly Gillcrist, who was the singles runner-up, and sophomore Hannah Smith, who finished fifth in singles, qualified to state along with the Thunder’s top doubles duo, senior Madison Fangman and junior Julianne Smith, who also finished second.
“It’s unbelievable to have four girls going to 5A state,” Snodgrass said.
Gillcrist ran into a buzz saw in the championship match as St. Thomas Aquinas senior Lauren Huddlestun didn’t drop a game en route to the singles crown.
She opened with a bye and then cruised to three straight 6-0, 6-0 wins against Shawnee Mission South freshman Emily Anderson, Lansing senior Cheyenne English and Gillcrist for the title.
Huddleston, 14-6, and Gillcrist, 16-5, both will receive first-round byes at state.
In stark contrast to singles, which pretty much went according to seed, the doubles bracket was littered with upsets, at least as far as the seeds were concerned, and also delivered the match of the day in the semifinals with a first-round bye at state on the line.
St. James’ Fangman and Smith dropped the opening set against SM South senior Micah Matthews and sophomore Chloe Matthews 6-3 and trailed 5-2 in the second set before winning five straight games to level the match and force a third set.
Fangman/Smith capped the marathon affair by outlasting the Matthews sisters 7-3 in the tiebreaker and earning a berth in the final, where Blue Valley Southwest senior Anna Hickok and sophomore Taylor Westrom awaited.
Hickok and Westrom prevailed with a 6-2, 6-2 win.
“We were the No. 1 seed, but we had no idea what to expect,” said Westrom, who placed 12th at state as a freshman. “We just wanted to make it to state, so winning was a bonus.”
It was also a shot of confidence for Hickok, who qualified for state in doubles for the third time but the first with Westrom.
“I’ve been to state twice, but I haven’t placed,” Hickok said. “That’s our biggest goal — to place and do better than we’ve done before.”
Meanwhile, Aquinas freshman Sarah Petty and sophomore Ciara O’Reilly, who were seeded 13th, started the day with an upset against No. 4 seed Morgan Fangman and Alex Mancuso of St. James and added another against Lansing seniors Alanda Kohl and Valyssa Layton in the quarterfinals.
But O’Reilly rolled her ankle on match point in that quarterfinals match, forcing the Saints’ duo to forfeit its semifinal and third-place matches.
BV Southwest’s second doubles duo, senior Kelsi Kirwin and freshman Melisa Capan, were seeded 10th, but finished fifth and qualified for state.
To reach Tod Palmer, call 816-234-4389 or send email to email@example.com. Follow him at twitter.com/todpalmer.
To reach Tod Palmer, call 816-234-4389 or send email to <a href="mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org">email@example.com</a>. Follow him at twitter.com/todpalmer.