Compared to the rest of his Manhattan High tennis teammates, Jonathan Turnley is something of an elder statesman.
The lone senior on a team filled mostly with sophomores, Turnley has been the right-hand man for head coach Joyce Allen, helping her re-acclimate to coaching boys’ tennis, while also providing leadership and a mostly no-nonsense attitude.
He’s a pretty good tennis player, too.
Pairing with freshman Bryce Easton, Turnley earned a No. 2 seed at the Class 6A state tournament which started today in Wichita.
Allen said Turnley has been invaluable to this year’s team.
“He has a heightened sense of responsibility, and he knows there’s a light, and he sees it and it’s close, and he wants it,” Allen said. “That’s usually what happens with seniors. When that goal is so close, they tolerate some tomfoolery, but basically they’re pretty focused. So he’s brought a focus to the team, and he will call people on it.”
At the beginning of the season, there was some doubt as to whether Turnley would take the court at all this season. He injured his shoulder at the end of the fall soccer season, tearing his labrum.
“I was a little bit worried with how my shoulder would hold up, and I had a couple problems with it, but I’ve been glad I’ve been able to push through everything and not run into too many problems,” Turnley said. “I’ve done some physical therapy and stuff to strengthen the muscles in the area, and then just tried to not put too much stress on it. I had to take some off of my serve, take some power off my overheads, things like that.”
Allen said the injury helped focus Turnley even more.
“When he injured his shoulder, I’m not certain, but I think that scared him a little bit,” she said. “He’s playing soccer in college, but he loves tennis, too. When he came back, he just really wanted to get down to business.”
Turnley qualified for state last season, pairing with top singles player Kirkland Lambert. Despite losing his partner, Turnley stuck with doubles partnering with Easton and posting some solid results, with second-place finishes at both the Centennial League meet and last week’s regional.
“I prefer doubles, and I’m definitely a lot better doubles player,” he said. “It’s a little more quick, aggressive play at the net, which plays to my strengths more than singles, where you’re hitting a lot of ground strokes.”
Turnley said adjusting to a new partner took time, but has paid off for the team, with Lambert earning a No. 1 seed at state in singles.
“It takes a little time to figure out each other’s playing styles and get used to playing with each other, but I’ve been very happy — Bryce is a great player,” he said. “He’s really young, but he already knows a lot about tennis and he’s got great strokes.”
Turnley’s goal for the weekend is to finish top 12 in doubles and see the team finish among the state’s top teams outside of the Kansas City metro area, which traditionally dominates the rest of the state in tennis.
If the team is going to finish well, it will need solid performances from Turnley’s two brothers, Matt Turnley and Ben Turnley, who make up Manhattan’s second doubles pair.
Jonathan Turnley played alongside his brothers on the soccer field, but said the dynamic in tennis is different because there’s more direct competition.
“For the most part it’s been really fun,” he said. “It’s different. Even though we played soccer together, in tennis, there aren’t that many of us out here, so we’re really going at it just against each other a lot of days. There’s definitely some rivalry, but for the most part, it’s a lot of fun and joking around.”
Both Matt Turnley and Ben Turnley, as well as singles player Camden Adams, will have tough draws at state. Adams earned a No. 5 seed, while the Turnley brothers earned a No. 6 seed.
“It would be nice if we could all win our first-round matches, but there are going to be some tough ones,” Allen said. “It depends how we’re seeded. If we’re seeded No. 4, we’ll be up against that really tough Kansas City regional.
“If we lose that first round, you can go out and get fifth from the back side. Everybody just has to play well early. They all proved that last week at regionals, because you have to win that first match, and they all did.”
Lambert has the best draw of anyone on the team, and even he will be tested early. Following a first-round bye, he will likely face a No. 4 seed from the always-tough Kansas City regional.
“I’ve looked at my draw a few times, and just from what I’m projecting will happen, I’m not going to have an easy draw,” Lambert said. “I’ll play tough Kansas City guys right from the start.
“But I play with those kids in the summer and stuff. There are a few that I’ve lost to in the past, but there are plenty I’ve beaten. There will be very few matches that are not close. Every match I play will be a tough, grind-out match.”
Lambert has similar goals to Jonathan Turnley, wanting to make it to the second day of competition while seeing the team finish in the top eight.
The sophomore said he is playing some of his best tennis right now.
“I think right now I’m playing basically as well as I can,” he said. “Obviously there are tons of ways I can improve my game, just like anybody. But right now I’m playing fairly well and I’m confident going in.”
The tournament began today and will continue into Saturday, with play resuming at 9 a.m.