When the coronavirus shut down the Manhattan sports scene in early March, most athletes were forced into isolation.
For the most part, organized team activities were banned, while gatherings of any sort were heavily discouraged. School weight rooms and gyms closed, depriving many athletes of a space where they could fit in their training.
The situation was no different for the Harkin family, as Manhattan High’s Daniel and Jillian Harkin were pushed away from the normal competitions they are accustomed to. For Daniel, the cancellation of spring sports meant no high school tennis or track season. For Jillian, it meant more limitations on tennis training.
However, the siblings had one big benefit that most other athletes didn’t: each other.
“He was my practice partner for all of March, April, May and throughout the summer,” Jillian said. “I think he definitely helped me get better, even though everything was locked down and we couldn’t play at our normal courts. He was a great partner.”
Daniel, who is a talented tennis player in his own right, was able to maintain his skill set and his conditioning by taking the court with his sister. The training also provided the competition that both Harkin siblings crave.
“Sometimes we play matches,” Jillian said. “We’re both really competitive, so it helps both of us, because we both want to win when we’re playing each other. Off the court, we’re really good friends.”
The offseason training paid off in big ways for both of them, as the Harkins went on to have successful seasons despite the uncertainties caused by COVID-19. Now, those seasons are capped off with another award, as The Mercury has selected Daniel and Jillian have as the 2020 Co-All-Flint Hills Fall Athletes of the Year.
For Daniel, it is the second year in a row he has earned the athlete of the year honor. Not coincidentally, it also is the second year in a row he ended as the 6A individual cross country champion.
Daniel once again showcased why he is in the conversation for the greatest runner to ever compete at Manhattan High, as he was thoroughly dominant throughout the year. He finished the year with a clean sweep of the Centennial League, regional and state tournaments.
“He’s a competitor,” MHS cross country coach Susan Melgares said. “That’s part of what makes him very successful is that he has a very competitive drive to win. When you have a year like he did in 2019, you expect to come out and be on top for most of the races.”
However, Daniel’s year didn’t start with a win. He actually finished second in Manhattan’s season-opening home meet, placing behind Emporia’s Treyson True.
Daniel didn’t let the opening finish deter him, instead using it as fuel for his inner fire.
“I think that guy helped motivate me to keep improving,” Daniel said. “I’m sort of grateful that I lost my first meet, because it was a good motivator for the rest of the season. I think it actually helped me more than if I had won that meet.”
Jillian’s season went almost in reverse of Daniel’s. Whereas Daniel was entering his senior season with a target on his back as the defending state champion, Jillian was trying to cement her name as a fixture in the Kansas girls’ tennis landscape.
Boy, did she ever.
The sophomore rolled through her competition, going 35-0 before losing in the state finals match. She likely will enter her junior season as the favorite for the 6A state title.
She finished the season as both the Centennial League and regional individual champion.
“When she steps in between the lines, she’s a competitor,” MHS girls’ tennis coach Tony Ingram said. “When she steps between the lines, her competitive mind and focus is on another level. I think that’s a great attribute she has at such a young age.”
That both Harkins enjoyed such immense success this fall speaks to their focus throughout the season. Even when the fall season was in jeopardy because of the coronavirus, both maintained belief in themselves and took care of what they could control.
“I just kept reminding myself that it wasn’t impossible for us to have a full season and you never know what could happen,” Jillian said. “Someone could have gotten COVID and our season would be over. I tried to stay positive and tried to stay safe. I’m glad it worked out, because it turned out to be a great season, which we didn’t know if we would have.”
“I was so motivated to do well because I want to accomplish the same goals with or without corona,” Daniel added. “I’m sure that’s the same for my sister. I didn’t really think that affected anything too much.”
Now, both Harkins will get started on different paths.
Daniel will chase a state tennis title of his own this spring while competing in track and field as well.
Tennis is his first love, and would be his sport of preference in college should the opportunity present itself.
“I’m going to do both sports this season and see which one works out more,” Daniel said. “The plan is to play tennis and workout, and I can fall back on running. It would be much harder to try running and fall back on tennis.”
Jillian still has two more years at Manhattan. She already is on a similar path to her brother when compared to his cross country career, as both placed highly but didn’t win the state competitions as freshmen and sophomores.
However, Jillian doesn’t want to be remembered as Daniel’s younger sister. She wants to create her own path and legacy at MHS.
“I’m hoping to build a different name for myself that’s not connected to my brother,” Jillian said. “Although I love my brother, I really want to have my own legacy as a great tennis player at Manhattan High.”
All-Flint Hills Fall Teams
Boys’ Cross Country
Dan Harkin, Manhattan, Sr.
Won the 6A state championship, Centennial League meet and regional meet.
Emery Wolfe, Wamego, Soph.
Finished 3rd at League 3rd, 5th at Regional and 12th at State. Best Time: 17:09.9
Brady Stegman, Wamego, Soph.
Finished 2nd at League, 7th at Regional, and 32nd in the State meet. Best Time: 17:19.2
Jacob White, Wamego, Sr.
Finished 5th at League, 8th at Regional, and 23rd at State. Best Time: 17:38.6
Girls’ Cross Country
Jenna Keeley, Manhattan, Jr.
4th place 6A state, Centennial League champion, regional champion
Kyra Nippert, Rock Creek, Fr.
Placed 17th overall at the 3A State meet at Wamego this year, 3rd at the Mid-East League XC Meet and 5th overall at the 3A Regional competition at Riley County
Adaline Fulmer, Wamego, Jr.
2nd League, 2nd Regional, 6th State, Best time: 20:55.4
Rebekah Stuhlsatz, Wabaunsee, Soph.
All League (MEL), 2nd at Regionals, 14th at 2A State, PR: 20:40
Jill Harkin, Manhattan, Soph.
35-1, 2nd place in 6A state
Kenzie Cooper, Wamego, Sr.
400 kills, 25 aces, 40 blocks
Bonnie Hegarty, Manhattan, Sr.
196 kills, 54 blocks, 15 aces
Jenna Weers, Rock Creek, Sr.
216 kills, 43 aces, 206 digs
Emma Toerber, Valley Heights, Sr.
1st Team All-League Twin Valley, Honorable mention All-State 2A
Breanna Young, Blue Valley-Randolph, Jr.
191 kills, 29 blocks, 338 digs, 12 aces
Ryann Alderson, Wamego, Jr.
34 aces, 516 assists, 316 digs
Andi Siebert, Manhattan, Sr.
Season Average 86.2., four first-place finishes
Rhys Phipps, Manhattan, Sr.
Season Average 87.7
Emily Yerman, Manhattan, Sr.
Season Average 89.3, finished first at Centennial League
Caleb DeLoach, Manhattan, Sr.
7 shutouts, 83% save percentage
TK Robinson, Manhattan, Sr.
Anchored team’s defense
Cole Schmitt, Manhattan, Sr.
5 goals, 6 assists
Grant Snowden, Manhattan, Jr.
Connor Turner, Manhattan, Sr.
7 goals, 12 assists