Northwest shut out, North’s Smith qualifies for 6A state tourney
Overland Park The Sunflower League is always among the toughest leagues in the state, so it looked like Shawnee Mission Northwest’s second-place finish at the league tournament would be a good sign as the Cougars prepared for the Class 6A regional tournament.
It turned out the regional tournament was far more difficult. It pitted the top Sunflower League programs and East Kansas League programs — essentially making it the state’s most talent-heavy regional — and that spelled bad news for the Cougars on Friday at the Indian Creek Tennis Center.
Blue Valley North won the regional title and Sunflower League champion Shawnee Mission East placed second.
No Cougars finished in the top six, so Northwest was shut out from the state championships.
One local player — Keenan Smith of Shawnee Mission North — is headed to state, however. He finished fifth in the singles bracket.
“I really had to be consistent, and I did it when I needed to at the important times,” Smith said. “That’s the important stuff right there.”
Smith won his first match easily, cruising to a 6-2, 6-2 victory against Nicholas Riveros of Blue Valley West.
In the quarterfinals, Smith faced one of his toughest opponents of the season in Vinny Pham of Shawnee Mission West. Pham defeated Smith three times previously this season, and Pham won this one 6-1, 6-4.
When Smith moved into the consolation bracket, he faced a must-win match to qualify for state. In a battle that featured several long breaks late in the match, Smith defeated Shawnee Mission South’s Kevin Kochersperger, 6-1, 6-4, and secured a state berth.
“I was getting really tired,” Smith admitted. “I got so exhausted. I just had to battle.”
Smith went on to defeat Adam Yungmeyer of Blue Valley North in the fifth-place match, 7-5, 6-4.
Smith grabbed an early 5-2 lead in the first set, but Yungmeyer recovered to tie it at 5-5. Nevertheless, Smith finished off the last two games and took control of the match.
It was a demanding second set, but Smith pulled through again.
“I just stepped up my game and produced when I needed to,“ Smith said.
North coach Amie Schick said she was proud of Smith for rising to the occasion.
“He had a great day,” Schick said. “ He’s definitely found another gear.”
Blue Valley North’s Jack Sock won the singles title and dropped only five games the entire day. Sock is considered the top young tennis prospect in United States. Last September, he won the U.S. Open boys championship in New York City.
Now preparing for the state tournament, Smith’s central focus is continuing the achievements of regionals while polishing up some weaknesses.
“I really have to work on my first serve consistency,” Smith said. “I definitely played defensively really well today. I got lucky a few times and played strong.”
Smith led North to a sixth-place finish as a team at regionals.
Meanwhile, Northwest didn’t score any points at regionals. Every Cougar player lost in the first round.
Cougars coach Ken Clow expected regionals to be difficult, but he didn’t anticipate his team being shut out from state.
“It’s for state so it has to be this way; It’s tough,” Clow said. “This competition is unbelievable.”
The Cougars did not win a match at the tournament, resulting in an abrupt end to one of the best seasons in program history.
“I thought in doubles we gave away way too many points with double faults,” Clow said. “In singles, at times we played too loose, too lackadaisical.”
The doubles shutout was the biggest shocker for Northwest.
The number one team of seniors Hunter Holman and Arjun Kumar struggled to find a rhythm in the first set against a squad from Blue Valley Northwest. Holman and Kumar battled back in the second set, but ultimately lost the match, 6-1, 7-5.
The number two doubles pair of Dane Boring and Charlie Schmidt lost to a squad from Blue Valley West, 6-0, 6-1.
The singles competition was equally demanding as seniors Chris D’Silva and Calvin Garland both dropped their first-round matches.
Even with this disappointing end, Clow said the Cougars accomplished numerous goals this season.
“It’s one of the best one’s we’ve ever had,” Clow said. “Had we gone to any regional other than this we would have qualified players for state.”
The Class 6A state tournament will take place Friday and Saturday at Washburn Rural High School in Topeka.