Archive for Thursday, August 17, 2006

Ready to return

De Soto’s top pairs team finished third at state last season and has even bigger plans for 2006

August 17, 2006

It wasn't just a great day. It wasn't just a lucky draw.

The doubles team of Hana Lindbloom and Rebekah Gulley fought their way to a third place finish in last year's state tournament with a little of everything -- great play at state and the week before at regionals, a great draw that kept them away from the eventual champions and plain, old fashioned skill.

The medal haul was quite an achievement for the young pair. Lindbloom was just a freshman and Gulley a sophomore.

Now the hardest part of their 2005 state run -- getting back and doing it again, the pair said Tuesday.

"After last year I know a lot of people will be paying more attention. I know a lot more people will be following us," Gulley said. "I think other teams will be scared. Last year there were teams we were scared of. I think that will help us.

"We want to get back and we're going to try and hope it works out."

Being one of the top returning doubles teams comes with its advantages -- Lindbloom and Gulley have to be one of the preseason favorites to claim a state title -- but it also comes with some disadvantages, the pair said.

First, there's the pressure.

The duo said there's not an immense amount of pressure to win the title this season because both will return in 2007. Still, after a third-place finish, there's only one direction to go.

There's also undoubtedly a lot of teams that would be thrilled to ensure Lindbloom and Gulley didn't get there.

Gulley said a lack of pressure probably helped the team set up its run to the state semi-finals, too. They began the season without a real idea of what to expect and punched their ticket to the state tournament with a quarter-final's victory at regionals.

After that, it was all fun, Gulley said. The top four finishers at the regional meets qualify for state, so they were guaranteed in no matter if they won their last regional match or not.

It would turn out winning was very advantageous, though. The team beat a doubles squad from Hayden for the first time in three tries in the championship match. After falling just short in a pair of bouts earlier in the year, 8-6 and 8-6, Lindbloom and Gulley reaped their revenge, claiming the regional title with a convincing 6-2, 6-3 win.

"We just had fun at regionals," Gulley said. "We had done really well and we knew we'd get first or second anyway, so we didn't realize at the time how big it would be to win or how good of a draw we'd get."

"We were just happy to be going to state," Lindbloom said.

The Hayden pair ran into the eventual state champions in the second round while Lindbloom and Gulley avoided them completely.

"It all started at regionals," Gulley said. "If we hadn't won at regionals, we would not have done as good as we did."

Both girls insisted their definition of success in 2006 won't hinge the outcome of the state tournament, but they spent their summer trying to guarantee their success anyway.

The duo -- no stranger to singles tennis lessons -- signed up for specialized doubles lessons at the Kansas City Racquet Club.

"The lessons weren't really for tennis (skills). They were for doubles strategy," Lindbloom said. "We have the tennis skills we need. It's about what to do when something happens and where to be. We're going to continue doubles lessons throughout the season."

The pair spent much of the summer playing in singles events, but squeezed in doubles work whenever they could. Working with fellow state medalist De Soto junior Hannah Konetzni and Gulley's freshman sister, Suzie Gulley, they tried to refine their skills.

It's a task coach Michael Sullivan said he's seen take shape since the partners played their first high school tennis match together last fall.

They went from wide-eyed youngsters to fierce competitors, he said.

"They had such a good year for their first year," Sullivan said. "They have a good rapport with each other. They complement each other well

"Hana's probably a little stronger at the net, but Rebekah's getting better. They're both good groundstrokers, have consistent serves and Rebekah's got a really good, wicked crosscourt shot."

The journey back to the state tournament officially begins Aug. 24 when the Wildcats travel for a tournament at Topeka Hayden.

Once it all starts, no one is exactly sure what to expect. Tennis, particularly doubles, isn't as easy to forecast as other high school sports, Sullivan said. Most of the doubles teams that medaled at state last season have split up. Half of the team graduated in some instances and in others, the players decided to go alone and compete for singles spots.

At the same time a talented freshman or transfer student could shake things up, as could a pair of 2005 singles players opting to try their luck on the doubles circuit.

What does it all mean for Lindbloom and Gulley? Simply that they'll have to be ready for everything, they said.

It's a long road back to state -- they both admit as much readily -- but changes or not, the dream of a state title still looms and both said they know they've got two years to get there.

"Having so much success and being so young, we think we could do better than that," Lindbloom said. "If it doesn't happen this year, we have another year. We just want to do our best."

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