Win or lose, this weekend will be Jake Seaton’s last tennis match as a Manhattan Indian.
The senior will make his fourth appearance at state, this time as a top seed with a first-round bye and a good shot to improve upon his 11th-place finish as a junior.
With a four-year varsity resume that ranks among the top for any Indian tennis player in school history, Seaton will lead the way at the state tournament this weekend, which will also include two doubles pairs of underclassmen from Manhattan looking to gain experience.
But as good as Seaton is at tennis, it’s his endeavors in the classroom and in debate and forensics that will take him to Harvard next year and end his competitive tennis career. Seaton won his second straight state championship in the original oration event at the 6A state forensics tournament earlier this month, while taking second in the International Extemporaneous Speech competition. At Harvard, Seaton plans to debate, not play tennis, for the Crimson.
“The Harvard team is really good, and I’m planning to debate for Harvard, so I don’t think I can do both,” Seaton said. “And I don’t think I’m good enough to do much on the Harvard (tennis) team.”
Of course, Seaton won’t have to give up tennis altogether. Playing recreationally will be always be an option for the senior, who started playing competitively in seventh grade, and took his first lessons even earlier.
“I took some lessons when I was five, but I hated it at first,” Seaton said. “So finally I started to enjoy it around (seventh grade). That summer I played some tournaments, and haven’t really taken any substantial amount of time off, so it’s mostly year-round.”
Seaton credits local tennis pro Bill Fraley as the one who sold him on playing competitively. He was coached by tennis pros Chandler Brass and Ryan Marick, while getting in plenty of practice shots with father Ned Seaton, who played at Manhattan High years ago.
“There are a bunch of people I owe a lot to,” Seaton said. “There’s Bill Fraley, who was the first coach and professional trainer I had, at Cottonwood Racquet Club. Then Chandler Brass, who was also a pro at Body First for a while, and showed me what it took to be a high-level junior player. And most recently my pro coach has been Ryan Marick.
“And there’s my dad, who got me started on tennis in the first place and has been a huge role model, and influence and hitting partner.”
Once Seaton was hooked on tennis, he began to play it as much as he could.
“I would go straight from tennis practice to the tennis club and finally get home around 7 o’clock, and couldn’t wait for practice the next day,” he said. “So I knew I was going to stick with it. At that time, I was also playing soccer, but I liked tennis so much, I just sort of stopped.”
Once Seaton reached high school, he made varsity as a freshman and was able to contribute immediately, landing a No. 2 singles spot and making a strong run through the postseason that culminated in a surprise state tournament berth.
“At regionals as a freshman, I was seeded third, which was way higher than I ever expected,” he said. “Out of nowhere, I made it to the semifinals and qualified for state, which made me the first freshman to qualify in singles from MHS.
“I got my butt kicked at state, but it was nice to go, and it showed me I should stick with tennis, so I did, and it’s been really rewarding.”
As a sophomore, Seaton was paired with Kenton Hallowell (currently playing tennis for Emporia State) as the No. 1 doubles team for the Indians. That season also ended in a trip to state, while also reinforcing the abilities of both players as individuals.
“I don’t know how happy Kenton was about that, since he was a junior, and a lot better than me,” Seaton said. “He may have wanted to play singles, but we did really well as a team and it helped me out a lot as a player. For one, getting to play with someone with more experience taught me about the game, plus doubles is so different from singles, but it makes you a way better all-around player.”
As a junior, Seaton went back to singles, playing No. 2 behind Hallowell. Both placed at state; the last time two singles players from MHS earned placings at state was in 1982, when Michael Center won the title and David Conderman also placed.
“I had a pretty easy season at No. 2 singles,” Seaton said. “I did all right at Centennial, then was third at regionals and only lost to Kenton. Then somehow, I made it to the second day of the state tournament and placed 11th.”
In his final campaign, Seaton’s goal was to win the Wichita East regional, which he accomplished last weekend. As regional champion, the top seed he earned sets him up with a chance to improve upon his 11th place finish at state from a season ago. But he’s not pressing too hard about that.
“I’m not extremely worried about where I end up in the state tournament,” he said. “I’m just looking to have a fun time at my last high school tennis tournament.”
The Indians take to the courts Friday morning at 11:30, with Saturday’s action starting at 9 a.m. at the Kossover Tennis Complex in Topeka.
Seaton said the team will be ready despite the quick turnaround from Monday’s regional.
“(Tuesday) was sort of a recovery day from regionals,” he said. “But (Wednesday) we got back into the groove of working on singles.”
With junior JT Turnley and freshmen Kirkland Lambert, Ben Turnley and Matt Turnley along for the ride at state, Seaton said he is hoping to set the same example that veteran players set for him over the years. Lambert and Seaton are cousins who have lived together in one family their whole lives, and have spent plenty of time together on tennis courts.
“Obviously the future is bright,” Seaton said of the MHS tennis team. “We have three freshmen qualified for state, plus a junior who will be back next year, plus a bunch of others who are right there. I would hope I made some sort of positive impact on the future of the team, just by trying to set an example, but I don’t know, there’s no way to quantify that.”