Archive for Thursday, November 9, 2006

Cats still looking up

Duo’s quest for title could dominate ‘07

November 9, 2006

The temptation is undeniable. How could it not be?

Hana Lindbloom and Rebekah Gulley have demonstrated over the last two years that when paired together, they make one of the best pairs tennis teams in the state.

Third in 2005 and runners up in this year's Class 4A state tennis tournament, the duo is probably even the favorite for the 2007 title, as the only team in their class they couldn't handle -- the state champion Parsons squad -- graduated.

Possible state champions together -- who wouldn't ask if maybe they could both make runs in the singles bracket, thus giving the Wildcats two shots at that title and maybe two very high placers?

He's asked himself, De Soto tennis coach Michael Sullivan said. He's thought about it, and while he won't actually have to make a decision until the squad packs off for the regional tournament in approximately 11 months, he can't imagine anything inspiring him to split up what has become De Soto gold.

"They've been third and they've been second, and they've already said, 'Hey, we want to win it next year,'" Sullivan said. "How could I be the one who broke that up?"

It was a successful season for the De Soto tennis team, and while Gulley and Lindbloom's push for the state championship was the crowning achievement, the Cats were successful across the board.

De Soto won four tournaments, bested two teams in duals -- arch rival Mill Valley included -- placed second at regionals and sent multiple entries to the state tournament for the second year in a row.

Hannah Konetzni and Suzie Gulley joined Lindbloom and Rebekah Gulley at the state tournament in Emporia as the Cats found strong competitors up and down their lineup.

"We were very similar to where we were in the past," Sullivan said. "We finished as solid as we have in the past."

Lindbloom and Rebekah Gulley rolled through the regular season. The pair lost to only two other doubles teams and failed to win only two tournaments they entered into. They lost to the eventual Class 6A third place team, then fell twice to the Class 4A champ from Parsons.

The only trouble the pair had at the regional tournament came from the other De Soto pair -- Konetzni and Rebekah's freshman sister, Suzie.

It was more easy going at state, where for the second-straight year the duo coasted through the first day and into the semi-final.

Rather than losing at that stage, as they had in 2005, the pair won, advancing to the state finals without dropping a set.

Once there, the pair had a real chance to haul home a championship. They gave up their first set of the tournament without much of a fight, falling 6-0, but rallied in the second, taking the set 7-5. They couldn't muster a fight in the third, however, and fell 6-0.

"They definitely want to play together again next year," Sullivan said. "This year wasn't a perfect season, but on paper, they're the top team coming back.

"The one thing left is the state title -- it's the only thing left for them to accomplish."

The state tournament didn't end with any kind of run for Konetzni and Suzie Gulley -- the pair fell from the tournament in two tight matches -- but there was plenty for the duo to be excited about, both this season and in the future.

Neither started the year playing doubles. Konetzni tried her luck at singles after advancing to state as a part of a doubles team last season, while Gulley fought from the No. 2 singles spot in the first few events.

Both found some success and finished the year with shiny singles records. The decision to play doubles came down to the point potential for the whole team. An injury left the No. 2 doubles team that De Soto had replied upon all year in turmoil, and Sullivan said he thought lumping Konetzni and Gulley together had the potential to earn the most points at regionals.

As he watched the two De Soto doubles squads battle it out in the regional final, he couldn't have been proven more right.

Both pairs made the finals easily, and Konetzni and Suzie Gulley even took a shot at the upset -- they won the first game, but couldn't turn that into a regional championship.

"Suzie's a young player and she's going to get better and Hannah is really committing to some offseason programs," Sullivan said. "They could have both qualified in singles, but they had a better chance in doubles and ultimately, the fact that they both finished first and second at regionals, (playing them together) was the right decision."

Neither team reached its ultimate goal at state, but both will have an opportunity to fulfill those dreams next season. Rebekah Gulley and Konetzni will return as seniors. Lindbloom will be a junior and Suzie Gulley will be a freshman.

The squad does lose two seniors from its normal varsity six, and while neither pushed for state, Sullivan said both Megan Paulsen and Laura Scott made the most of their years with the program.

They were instrumental in De Soto's success in the regular season, found to a 9-1 record as De Soto's No. 2 doubles team and were poised for the post-season when Paulsen was injured. She had shoulder surgery and missed the last portion of the season.

"They were both players that didn't play all four years, but they made some good progress," Sullivan said. "Megan getting hurt at the end of the year hurt, but they both worked very hard and they were committed.

"They were solid in (the No. 2 doubles spot) and they earned a very nice record together."

As disappointing as the injury was, it did allow a view of some of the Wildcats that will be fighting for varsity time in 2007.

Brittny Smith was one of the primary beneficiaries, playing doubles in several tournaments, and closing out the year in singles at regionals.

Kara Doherty also logged time in doubles.

"We have our top four players returning, so that's a definite plus," Sullivan said, " but all those girls were good this season. They're all going to have motivation next year."

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