Manhattan High’s girls’ tennis team got its first taste of elite competition this week, competing at meets on back-to-back days.
The Indians took second at Junction City’s quad Monday before tying for first with Washburn Rural at the Junior Blues’ home invite Tuesday.
“I think we did pretty well as a group,” MHS head coach Tony Ingram said. “Especially (on Tuesday), I think there was some adversity for a couple of the teams, and they came through even with it being their sixth match in 24 hours. I think it help conditioning wise and I think it helped competitively as well.”
In Junction City, the Indians ran afoul of an elite Shawnee Mission East team, falling in all four of their matches against the 6A defending state champions.
No. 1 singles player Jillian Harkin went 2-1, beating Shawnee Mission South and Junction City in straight sets before falling in a knock-down, drag-out battle with Bryson Langford of Shawnee Mission East 7-8(6), the first loss of Harkin’s season and only the third of her varsity career.
“She lost to a really quality opponent,” Ingram said. “From a fan perspective, watching them both play, it was great. We got numerous comments about how great the tennis was. It was just fun to watch. (Harkin) handled it very well and understood the learning points from it.”
Playing at No. 2 singles, Maura Wiens picked up wins over the Blue Jays (8-0) and Shawnee Mission South (8-5) before falling to Greta Stechschulte of Shawnee Mission East 2-8.
Langford and Stechschulte are two-time defending 6A doubles champions for the Lancers.
The No. 1 doubles team of Ava Bahr and Hannah Loub went 2-1, with an 8-4 win over Shawnee Mission South and an 8-0 win over Junction City before falling, 8-1, to Shawnee Mission East.
Lastly, the No. 2 doubles team of Jessica Zhang and Erin Craft also went 2-1, grabbing wins over Shawnee Mission South (8-5) and Junction City (8-2) before falling 4-8 to Shawnee Mission East.
“(Both doubles teams) had a good day, but I felt like both could’ve finished a little better on Monday,” Ingram said. “And they’re both — especially Erin and Jessica at our No. 2 doubles spot — just now starting to learn and play with each other. It’s new for them, and they just need to learn how to play and communicate. It’s a much different game than the singles that they’re used to.”
At Washburn, Harkin rebounded in a big way, beating Hellrich from DeSoto, Del-Zio from Seaman and Wichman from Washburn Rural, all in straight sets.
“(Harkin) was just hitting the ball real clean and you could just see that there was maybe a little more focus today,” Ingram said. “The competition level wasn’t the same as the day before, but there was a lot of intentionality to her play.”
Wiens also had a strong showing at No. 2 singles, beating Burk from Emporia (6-2, 6-1) and Bender from Maize (6-0, 6-2) before getting in a tight match with DiMarzio from Washburn Rural, falling 1-6 in the first set before winning the second set 6-2 and then winning the tie breaker 10-2 to earn gold.
“She fell behind a set in that championship match, but I was really proud of the way she handled adversity,” Ingram said. “You’re going to have adversity when you’re on your sixth match in 24 hours, but you could see some maturity in her play to be able to come back from down one set to win.”
Bahr and Loub took third in No. 1 doubles, going 2-1 with a win over Uhlwelling and Karel from Derby (6-4, 6-0) before falling to Grace Unruh and Lauren Sweeney from Seaman (1-6, 0-6), who finished fourth at the Class 5A state championship last season.
“They’re a really good team,” Ingram said. “We knew it would be a struggle, but they handled themselves well.”
In the third-place match, Bahr and Loub faced Strobel and Pfeifer from Maize, dropping the first set 5-7 before winning the second 7-5. They fell behind 4-5 in Set 2 and faced three break points before rallying to win the set’s final three games.
The pair won the tiebreak 10-4.
“During that time, we didn’t talk about X’s and O’s at all,” Ingram said. “It was more just about energy and getting them to communicate. They did a great job responding.”
Zhang and Craft also earned bronze, getting a win over Wright and Fandre from DeSoto before falling to McGrown and Haase from Maize, 6-3, 3-6 (8).
In the third-place match, Zhang and Craft easily dispatched Yager and Walsh from Derby 6-4, 6-0.
“They’re starting to come together and gel together,” Ingram said. “They’re really starting to understand each other.”
Ingram said two matches in two days was a tough test for his team, but will help prepare his players for regional and state play, which both are two-day tournaments.
“This simulates what they’ll get at regionals and state the best I can within the schedule,” Ingram said. “They’re going to be tired on that second day but Day 2 at regionals, they’ll be playing either to make it to state or for seeding. Then Day 2 at state is the medal rounds.”
Manhattan will get its biggest test of the season next week. It will compete at Emporia on Monday before traveling to Kansas City on Tuesday for the KC Plaza Tournament, which will be its final tuneup before competing in the Centennial League meet Oct. 4 at Washburn Rural.