Kenton Hallowell remembers the nerves from eighth grade, when he knew he would be playing high school tennis in the next year.
When he walked into practice at Manhattan High, then coach Bob Kelly quickly identified him as one of the best players on the team.
Hallowell, who is rarely short of confidence, took the praise in stride and teamed with Elliott Goe to qualify for state as the Indians’ No. 1 doubles team that season.
Three years later and another two trips to state as a doubles participant, Hallowell is about to enter his first state tournament as a singles player. And after winning last week’s regional tournament, he will be one of the top four seeds.
The MHS senior said he is ready, and he has his goal set for this weekend’s Class 6A tournament at Maize South.
“I definitely want to finish in the top five, and that’s been my goal since the beginning of the year,” he said. “It always has been my goal, and I know there are at least four players in the singles bracket who are really good and I have played a couple of them and lost to them, but I’m confident with my game right and I have gotten better.
“If I play my best tennis I can win those matches, but only if I play my best game.”
Hallowell is the first player to reach the state tournament for four straight years since 2008 graduate Gabe Nagy did it. Nagy played doubles as a freshman and singles for the three years after.
Jake Seaton, who will also be playing singles for MHS this weekend, is making his third appearance. He will have the chance to match Hallowell’s accomplishment next year.
Hallowell said being one of the guys to accomplish the feat in the school’s history is something that will stay close with him.
“It means a lot to me,” he said. “People don’t know obviously when the last guy was, and no one knew the last guy to win regionals either. It’s been the highlight of my career to this point to win regionals.”
Hallowell actually thought last year would be his year to play singles. He started out as the Indians’ No. 1 singles player, but then Kelly made a switch he believed would benefit the team, and Hallowell, by pairing him with Seaton as the No. 1 doubles group.
Hallowell admits he thought he was ready to take over last year, and still laughs about not knowing exactly why he had to switch over to doubles.
The biggest adjustment to playing full-time singles for Hallowell has been constantly playing the best players from the other team. But he said he views the challenge as fun.
Hallowell had a shot to win the Centennial League tournament two weeks ago, but he said he became tired after a good start, and his opponent came back from behind to beat him.
“The match at Centennial started going out my way, but it was the sixth match that day and I was tired,” he said. “My legs started to get a little tight and that’s when I started to play at my worst, because I wanted to be more conservative. I pulled back and he got ahead of me.”
One of the only guys that’s given Hallowell a lot of trouble this year has been Abilene’s Matthew Barlow. The junior went 27-3 this season, finishing second in his regional to Smoky Valley’s undefeated Quinn Dippel.
Hallowell said he didn’t given Barlow, who he said is a good friend, any hard time for being able to do what he couldn’t — win a regional — but he said Barlow did block him from being able to matchup with Dippel.
“I was happy for him that he got second place, because Quinn Dippel, who won the regionals, is a great player,” he said. “He’s maybe lost one match his whole career, so he is a heck of player. He was the one guy I wanted to play and Matthew beat me so I couldn’t play him, but I hope to play him this summer.”
Hallowell plans to walk-on at Emporia State next year, and continue his tennis career. Hallowell said he has no plans of ending his tennis career, anytime soon.