OLATHE — Daniel Harkin didn’t fall victim to the so-called “sophomore jinx” this season.
Harkin, a two-sport standout athlete as a sophomore at Manhattan High, just keeps getting better.
Coming off a banner freshman campaign, where he placed fourth at the Class 6A state tennis tournament in Topeka last May, Harkin one-upped his initial appearance by nailing down a third-place finish during Saturday’s state tourney.
Harkin defeated Nick Moody of Blue Valley West, 6-4, 6-4, in the 6A consolation match on an overcast and damp afternoon at the College Boulevard Activity Center.
“I played great the entire time,” Harkin said. “Through all of my matches, I am really happy how I performed. I was hoping to do as well as I could, and I did.
“It was great. I’ve just got to improve every year and get better and better.”
Manhattan finished No. 5 in the team standings for the second-straight season. Shawnee Mission East won the 6A team title, followed by Blue Valley West, Blue Valley Northwest, Olathe West and then the Indians.
Harkin’s placing ties for the second-best in the history of Manhattan High’s boys tennis program, putting him alongside Aaron O’Donnell, who also took third in 1992.
Michael Center is the only former Indian with a better finish, winning the state championship in 1982 and capping a 31-0 senior campaign.
Harkin, who posted a 29-2 overall record, already has two top-four finishes with room to improve over the next two seasons.
“He played fantastic,” Manhattan High head coach Brandon Starkey said. “It’s really impressive for a sophomore to do that after he was coming off a heartbreaking loss in the semifinals.”
Also a top-flight distance runner on the MHS track and field team, Harkin was coming off victories in the 1,600- and 3,200-meter runs from the Centennial League meet in Topeka on Thursday.
“It helps my endurance a lot,” he said. “When I play in tough matches, I don’t get tired.”
As a freshman, Harkin placed second in both track events to graduated teammate Cooper Schroeder, thus confirmation that he’s making big gains there, too.
Harkin came out strong in his third-place state tennis match, seizing a 3-0 lead in the first set en route to a 6-4 triumph.
The second set wasn’t as easy, according to Starkey, though Harkin won by the same count.
“It got a little bit tighter in that match,” Starkey said. “They went back-and-forth after that.”
The rugged semifinal battle between two of the state’s top underclassmen — Harkin and Olathe West junior Brett Seaton — was a dandy.
Seaton outlasted Harkin in three sets, 6-7(5), 6-2, 6-4, as both players staged rallies for much of the match.
Seaton got some momentum from the second set and held off Harkin in a tight third set.
“It has to be very frustrating,” Starkey said of Harkin’s loss to Seaton. “Dan did play really well and got off to a strong start. He was up 4-1 in that first set and then Brett was able to come back and take a 5-4 lead.
“Dan got it to a tiebreaker and played really well in the tiebreaker. I personally thought he had the momentum going into the second set.
“Brett just responded really well, winning 6-2 in that second set. The third set was anybody’s game, and we just came up a little short.”
The turning point in the final set came in a pivotal 4-3 game.
“(Harkin) had a break point at 40-30,” Starkey said, “and it was a ball that went just wide of the line. Had Dan got that, he would have tied it.
“Had he won that game, he would have held serve and it would have been 5-4 and a completely different ballgame, but Brett was able to gain the momentum back.”
Seaton (31-5) lost to Nam Pham of Shawnee Mission Northwest, 6-0, 6-0, in the state championship match. Harkin advanced from quarterfinal play after ousting Shawnee Mission East’s Jake Louiselle, 6-4, 7-5.
“Last year, he beat Jake 0-6, 7-5, 7-5,” Starkey said. “It was an amazing comeback win. This year he controlled the match for the most part and won in straight sets.”
Jack Easton and Jeren Ugrin were the Indians’ lone doubles team to advance to the second day, going 0-3 on Saturday and finishing 1-4 for the two-day event in posting an 18-10 overall record.
“We had high expectations for the tournament today and it really didn’t go the way we wanted it to,” Starkey said. “But the kids fought hard and they played well.
“We just came up short on a couple of matches.”
While Harkin and the team of Easton and Ugrin advanced out of the first day, the Indians’ other performers weren’t as fortunate.
Robert Zhang, earning the No. 4 seed from Manhattan’s regional, lost his first match to Mill Valley’s Gage Foltz.
Olathe North’s Manas Madhira then dispatched Zhang in the first match of the consolation bracket.
“Robert had a rough draw and was eliminated in consecutive matches,” Starkey said. “It was an insanely loaded singles pool, and Robert fought hard. He just didn’t have it (Friday). But he doesn’t have anything to hang his head for. He is a two-time state qualifier who is going to come back strong next season.”
The doubles team of sophomore Luke Craft and freshman Kelton Poole finished Friday 2-2.
The duo barely missed advancing to Day 2, but a defeat to Garden City’s top team — consisting of seniors Will Keller and Daniel Darter — sent Craft and Poole home.
“(I) felt we could have medaled these two, but doubles this year is very competitive,” Starkey said.
“Luke is a sophomore, Kelton is a freshman, and they are both workhorses. Cannot wait to see what these two become.”
Greg Woods contributed to this article.