ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF
Two past state qualifiers return for Hillsboro High School tennis coach Lonnie Isaac this spring.
With the help of a few other returning letter-winners, that might be enough to boost the Trojan boys among the MCAA’s top four teams.
In a league as tough as the MCAA, that’s no small accomplishment.
“If you finish fourth in our league, you have to feel pretty good about that,” Isaac said. “We’ve never finished in the top half in our league-and we’ve had some good players.”
Flying high in the MCAA is perennial power Wichita Collegiate, which won the Class 3A title last season, Ellinwood, which finished second in 3A, and Smoky Valley, which was the runner-up in 4A.
Isaac’s bigger goal, though, is to qualify players for state. Michael Hagen, a three-time qualifier who finished ninth in singles last season, is a leading candidate to go again.
“On paper, Michael looks like the top returning singles player in our regional,” Isaac said.
Fellow senior Jared Hefley, who qualified his freshmen and sophomore seasons but not last year, has an excellent chance of returning in his final year, Isaac said. He also hopes to qualify a doubles team-perhaps Hefley and returning letter-winner Brandon Ratzlaff.
“Hesston has two tough doubles teams, but four teams qualify,” he said. “I’d like to think that we’d have a reasonable shot at getting a doubles team in.”
Also returning for Hillsboro are letter-winner Caleb Dirks and juniors Adam Driggers and Jordan Woelk.
“Ratzlaff and Driggers played a lot this summer,” Isaac said. “I’ve seen some real improvement in them. I think those two guys are going to help us tremendously. Both guys could play doubles or singles, I just don’t know at this point.”
“Jordan and Caleb have both improved a lot. Jordan hasn’t won a challenge match yet (in preseason), but he’s played guys real close who beat him fairly easily last year.”
Newcomers include Jesse Janzen, a junior who played golf last season, and freshman Wade Kimbrel.
“Jesse is a new player and will help us with depth,” Isaac said. “I think he’ll really fit into our doubles lineup and help us there.”
Hagen, who signed a letter of intent a few weeks ago to play tennis at Tabor College, will lead this year’s team at No. 1 singles.
“His strength is that he’s always been a real consistent player,” Isaac said. “That’s enabled him to get to a certain point and be real successful.
“To get to the top five (in the state), I think he just needs to play with more intensity and little more aggressiveness,” Isaac added. “He can do it. If he learns to really go out and be aggressive and focused in every match, I really think he can be in the top five.”
Isaac himself is enjoying some statewide recognition. For the second year in a row, he was named Class 3A “Coach of the Year” after last spring’s season.
“That really surprised me,” he said of last year’s award. “The first year, we won our regionals and had five state qualifiers out of our six players. So the award made some sense to me because we made some good improvement.
“Last year, we only had one state qualifier, Michael, who got ninth at state. Nothing really stuck out. All I can think of is that I have good rapport with other coaches and I don’t have a lot of enemies.
“A lot of it has to be the kids behaving at meets and not drawing negative attention to the program,” he added. “Some of that may show in that award. Other coaches see us as being a well-behaved program.”
The Trojans will have two home meets during the regular season, April 5 and May 7, and will host regionals.
HHS open its season at Conway Springs on Thursday. Matches begin at 3 p.m.