A crazy thing happened on last weekend’s road to the state tennis tournament.
Last year in October, I wrote a tribute to the game of tennis and the girls I coach at Hillsboro High School. Most of them were juniors, and we had just wrapped up a tough regional tournament that ended our season short of the goal of competing at the Class 3-2-1A state level. I mentioned the hope that we would do better in 2010. Well, we have.
Last weekend we qualified the doubles team of Becky Faber and Emma Heyen, both seniors, for the state tournament that starts this Friday at Wichita Collegiate by placing fifth at regionals.
As was the case last year, our regional tournament was chock full of talent. Besides Collegiate, last year’s state champs, our regional was blessed with Wichita Independent, Lyons, Ellsworth, Sterling, Hutchinson Trinity, Douglass, Pittsburg-St. Mary, Neodesha and Salina Sacred Heart.
Though Faber and Heyen were 19-2 this year, they were awarded a fifth seed.
My second doubles team, Elise Heyen, a senior, and Courtney Weber, a junior, claimed the No. 8 seed, which at first glance, seemed to be a fortunate placement in the 18-team doubles bracket.
They would not have to win a play-in match, and they could be reasonably assured of winning their first match out of the gate. Their record was 18-10 for the year.
As it turned out, however, the combination of seeds sprouted into one of the strangest matchups I have ever witnessed. Both doubles teams cruised through their openers. Faber/Heyen defeated an opponent from Neodesha by a 6-0, 6-2, count. Heyen/Weber defeated a team from Trinity, 6-0, 6-2.
All this looked really good for Hillsboro. Both teams were on their way. But, further down the bracket lurked a time bomb waiting to go off.
Since both doubles teams were in the same half of the bracket, if they both won their next contests, or if they both lost their next matches, they would end up playing each other.
On the winner’s side of the bracket, that would not pose a problem. A second win meant they would all earn a state berth, one of six available for doubles teams. But, if both pairs lost, that meant a head-to-head confrontation with nothing less than a trip to state on the line.
Scenarios like this have undoubtedly played out before. Two sets of players from the same school have met, perhaps with the same stakes. Have two sisters ever met across the net? Maybe. I don’t have the tournament history at my fingertips.
I would venture a guess, however, that no two identical twins have ever faced off in such an important regional matchup.
So, when both doubles teams lost in Round 2—Heyen/Faber in a tiebreaker heartbreaker to Lyons and Heyen/Weber to top-seeded Collegiate—that was exactly the scenario that unfolded. The Heyen twins would be required to battle it out for an opportunity to play for fifth and sixth.
Believe me when I say that nobody was happy about it. Though we were guaranteed a trip to state by two Hillsboro players, the first in three years, everyone was saddened by the prospect that one set of doubles would send the other packing from the regional.
I have to say I was proud of the way the girls handled the situation on the court Saturday. They played hard and made a fair contest out of it. I can’t even imagine what was going on in their minds as they waged tennis war on each other, trying to blot out the circumstances.
In the end, there were tears all around for both winners and losers.
For my part, I have continued to wonder what I could have and, perhaps, should have done differently in the seeding meeting Friday morning. If I had not fought for a No. 8 seed for the second doubles duo, they might have ended up on the other side of the bracket and never met their teammates.
But, they also might have drawn a first-round match against a top-seeded opponent and never even broken out of the gate at all. I am still not sure whether I did the right thing. It’s obviously too late now to do anything about it.
Readers can check the sports section for the results of Saturday’s matchup. All I know is, in the eyes of those who watched the contest unfold, all the players were winners. They showed grace and class, and I believe someday that will prove to be a much bigger reward than playing in a state tennis tournament.