ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF
A sixth-place finish at the state tennis tournament is a respectable finish by most standards, but the Hillsboro tennis team came home from the Class 3-2-1A tournament Saturday in Hesston disappointed by the thought of what could have been.
When the tournament opened on Friday, Michael Hagen defeated Jordan Nickel of Claflin, 6-1, 6-1, in singles action and Jared Hefley and Brandon Ratzlaff defeated Reade and Waite of Ellinwood in their first-round matchups.
The two Trojan entries led their respective opponents in the second round matches, too, but each finished on the losing end. Hagen lost to Kevin Sullivan of Wichita Collegiate, 5-7, 5-7, and Hefley and Ratzlaff lost to Stuever and Kuelgon of Conway Springs, 6-0, 5-7, 3-6.
The doubles loss was particularly disappointing, said coach Lonnie Isaac.
“At doubles, we had six match points against Conway (in the second set), but just struggled with closing out the match,” he said.
Had Hagen and Hefley and Ratzlaff prevailed, the Trojans likely would have taken home a third-place plaque. Instead, they finished sixth.
The silver lining for Isaac was that his team came back from Friday’s disappointments to go undefeated on Saturday. As a result, Hagen finished ninth and Hefley and Ratzlaff finished fifth.
“I was very proud of the fact that we went a combined 5-0 on Saturday in the consolation matches and came back and played some real solid tennis despite the disappointment of Friday,” Isaac said. “Those are always tough matches to come back and play when your expectations were much higher going in.”
Hagen lost his first consolation match on Friday to Kyle Hovorka of Belleville (7-9), but then came back on Saturday to beat Eric Shear (9-4) and Steve Claassen (9-2), both of Hesston.
Hefley and Ratzlaff won all three consolation matches on Saturday. They beat Hinderliter and Ross of Haviland (9-3) and then Stiles and Plughoeft (9-4) and Hickel and Liebl (9-2), both of Claflin.
“A sixth-place finish for our team is still very good,” Isaac said. “We had hoped for a third-place team finish, but finished seven points out.”
For senior leaders Hagen and Hefley, this was the last hurrah.
“We lose two seniors who have meant a tremendous amount to this program,” Isaac said.
Hagen was a four-time state qualifier-once in doubles and three times in singles. Hefley was a three-time state qualifier-twice in doubles and once in singles.
“These two for years have provided a great presence at the top of our lineup,” Isaac said. “The careers these had for us are undoubtedly the two best during my six years of coaching.
“We will definitely be looking for Brandon to step up in a singles role next year, and for the rest of the team to fill some holes.”