De Soto pair place second at state tennis
The doubles team of Hana Lindbloom and Rebekah Gulley claimed before the season that 2006 would be a success if they improved on their 2005 Class 4A state third-place finish.
To their credit, both were still able to summon that sentiment Saturday, even after losing their final match of the season.
Lindbloom and Gulley pushed Parsons' Maggie Goedeke and Kate LaForge further than any other team had this season -- the Class 4A championship match went to three sets -- but the pair from De Soto couldn't pull off the upset, falling 0-6, 7-5, 0-6 to place second in the state tournament.
"I'm actually very excited," Gulley, a junior, said. "Our goal was to improve on last year and we accomplished our goal and I'm proud of that."
The Cats' final match began and ended the same way -- on the wrong end of a six-game set. Still, the pair put together some of the best stretches of the season in their attempt to take home the state championship. Parsons improved to 38-0 with the win and hadn't even dropped a set all season, but a strong second-set serve from Lindbloom, some inventive shotmaking from Gulley and a few Parsons mistakes made the difference in the second set.
After coming out simply average in the first, De Soto pounced in the second, piling up quick wins in the first two games.
Parsons rallied to take the third game, but Lindbloom hammered an ace to push the fourth game to duece, and Parsons plugged returns of the De Soto sophomore's next two serves into the net, giving the Cats a 3-1 lead.
"It was a combination in the first set," De Soto coach Michael Sullivan said. "Parsons was just awesome and our girls weren't playing bad, they were just playing average. They found themselves in the second set though."
De Soto let a 30-love lead slip away to make the score 3-2 and Parsons tied the match at three by dominating at the net.
The Cats tried all morning to avoid Parsons' dangerous net game, but often it was impossible and Goedeke or LaForge consistently turned any soft volley sailing over the net into a neon-yellow missile zipping back De Soto's way.
There were two ways around that problem and the Cat pair tried them both. Lindbloom and Gulley often tried to lob the ball high on returns, staying well above any possible powerful swing. They also tried to go around, a strategy never better employed than on one of the most pivotal points of the second set.
Early momentum used up and the score knotted at three games
apiece, Gulley put the Cats back in front by rocketing a ball down the far boundary. It landed inbounds and went untouched by the Parsons pair, both of whom had moved forward to pounce on a mistake.
"(Lindbloom and Gulley) were able to hit some balls down the line and mix in some lob shots," Sullivan said. "They tried to pick their spots. Parsons is such a good net team. That really helped them out in the second set."
Parsons took a drawn-out ninth game to bring the score to 5-4, then tied everything up again, this time at 5-5, with several more points worth of stellar play at the net.
Three Goedeke double faults kept Lindbloom and Gulley in the 11th game of the match, before De Soto found a way to win it. Gulley went high with a lob that fell behind both Parsons players to give De Soto the advantage and LaForge to give the Cats the win by ending a long volley with a ball in the net.
Lindbloom then served for the set, tying the match at one set apiece.
"We're the only team that's taken them into the second set, and we're proud of that," Lindbloom said. "We knew if we even wanted to have a chance at the title we had to win that set. We didn't play scared like we did in the first set. We were taking it at them, not just hitting it back."
The ways around the Parsons' dominating net game -- the long lobs and the hard shots down the line -- didn't work nearly as well in the final set.
The teams took a 10-minute break, then stopped for another five minutes when Lindbloom and Gulley argued LaForge had contacted a ball over the net, a foul that would have given the De Soto pair a key point.
The dispute was finally resolved by replaying the point and a judge was placed on the court to decide any future decisions, but it never came up again. By the time it was all over, Sullivan said the distraction and the two lengthy breaks might have cost his team more than just a point.
"That little 10-minute break (between sets) slowed them down," Sullivan said. "I almost wish it wasn't there. If you're the team that wins the first set, then loses the second, you're going to want that break because the momentum has switched. Parsons took it and got back to what they were doing in the first set."
Lindbloom and Gulley weren't the only Cats who made the trip to state. De Soto's other doubles team of Hannah Konetzni and Suzie Gulley also competed, but struggled in their first to matches and didn't advance to the later rounds of the tournament.
"They were a little nervous, but they played good teams," Sullivan said "They had two really close matches and it isn't like any of the teams they lost to went on and fell out. Even though they are disappointed, they can both come back."
The pair lost its opening round match to a team from Larned 4-6, 5-7, then fell in another close match to a team from Chanute. Konetzni and Gulley nearly took control of the Chanute match early, but lost a first set tiebreaker 6-7. They won the second set 6-4, but fell in the third 2-6.
"We are not very happy," Konetzni said. "We just couldn't pull it through. We can do a lot better."
De Soto finished fifth in the team rankings, tied with Russell with 14 points, just behind Larned with 15 and within sight of a third-place trophy, which Parsons took with 16 points.
The Wildcats return all four participants and all but two of their regionals players next season, but nothing has been decided as to how the returning players will be divided between singles and doubles competitors.