Plains await hungry Cats
Tennis qualifiers headed to Pratt with medals on the mind
They lost the first set of the sub-state final and trailed late in the second, so its understandable that doubt began to overwhelm De Soto's top doubles team of Hana Lindbloom and Rebekah Gulley.
That they were able to rally, win first the set then the match and along with it the sub-state title made the day's lesson one of persistence, not doubt, however.
De Soto didn't get all it wanted from the first two stages of the postseason -- only Hannah Konetzni will join Lindbloom and Gulley at this weekend's state tournament.
The dreams for both Konetzni and the doubles team of Lindbloom and Gulley remain intact, however, as do the dreams of the whole program -- a team state championship.
Getting into the position to make any of those possible wasn't as easy as first expected.
Gulley and Lindbloom, for example, appeared destined to roll first through the regional tournament Thursday in Baldwin, then the sub-state tournament without any major hiccups.
The only major competition lying in wait was a doubles team from Marysville. Some competition it turned out to be, too, when the teams finally met Saturday in Topeka at the sub-state final.
The Marysville team had beaten De Soto's top pair once, but the Cats responded by thrashing it in the most recent encounter. Saturday's battle for the sub-state championship looked a lot like the first match, however.
Lindbloom and Gulley lost the first set 6-1, and quickly fell behind in the second. The De Soto team hadn't even been challenged to that point in the postseason, never having even come close to losing a set, let alone a match.
The pair rallied to take the second set in a tiebreaker, 7-6 (4), and despite again trailing in the last set, win the match with a 7-5 third-set victory.
It took 22 games and more than three hours, so long the third set had to be played at a different court so lights could be turned on.
"Everyone thought we were expecting to beat Marysville, but really we had doubts. Then we won the first game, but lost the next six in a row," Gulley said. "Then we starting thinking 'Well, there is always state.'"
The girls came back, though, and in doing so, they said they prepared themselves all the better for a run to the Class 4A state championship.
The adversity taught lessons.
"We weren't ever going to give up on it, but we realized we were going to have to work a lot harder than we usually do because we were having a bad day," Gulley said.
They learned how to win even when the best shots weren't falling and everything seemed to land an inch over the line.
"We knew from the second we went to warm up we were having a bad day," Lindbloom said. "Usually in tennis those are hard to get through, but we did."
And finally, they learned how to handle Marysville.
"We know how to beat them now," Gulley said. "They come to the net so we just hit it hard past them or lobbed it.
"We lobbed pretty well. We couldn't hit anything else, but we could lob."
The De Soto pair will likely enter the tournament as the top seed. Their 31-2 record is tops among the 16 teams which qualified, only a pair from Independence even coming close, sporting a 14-2 record.
Just how well De Soto does in the team standings could depend on senior Hannah Konetzni.
She qualified for state for the third consecutive season, but did so for the first time as an individual. Like Lindbloom and Gulley, it didn't all go exactly as expected.
Konetzni had little trouble in her first round at regionals, but went to a tiebreaker to take the first set from teammate Suzie Gulley.
Konetzni eventually won the set and the match, but lost in the regional final to Sarah Snodgrass of St. James. She earned her revenge two days later as she beat Snodgrass in the first round of the sub-state tournament to ensure a spot at state.
Konetzni then dropped the sub-state final, falling 6-0, 6-0 to the Class 4A favorite, Topeka Hayden's Alex O'Neil.
"It felt really good beating (Snodgrass)," Konetzni said. "At state, I have to be more patient and consistent with my shots.
"I'm really hoping to finish second."
The Cat senior will enter the state tournament with a 28-5 record, putting her easily into the upper half of the field, and potentially as high as the No. 5 seed.
Suzie Gulley rebounded from the loss to Konetzni at regionals with a three-set win against Lauren Obermueller of St. James. She lost in the first round of sub-state, one win shy of state, however, falling 3-6, 6-1, 6-2 to Snodgrass.
Kara Doherty and Brittny Smith won their first match at regionals, defeating a Spring Hill team 6-4, 61, but fell in the next round 6-1, 6-3.