Cats cap best season with two top-four finishes
The dull emotions of Saturday afternoon weren't what any of De Soto's state-qualifying tennis players had hoped for when their alarms went off early that morning.
The emotions eventually gave way to another reality, however, and soon senior Rebekah Gulley, junior Hana Lindbloom and senior Hannah Konetzni came to realize just what they had accomplished.
None fulfilled their early morning goals, but together they registered some of the top individual performances in De Soto tennis history, and combined for the highest team placing in program history.
Gulley and Lindbloom finished second in the Class 4A state doubles tournament and Konetzni was fourth in the singles bracket.
The team was second with 24 points.
"It's pretty exciting," Konetzni said. "We all get to go on the (De Soto High School) Wall of Champions.
"I'm excited about that."
De Soto edged Marysville by three and Topeka Hayden by four, but wasn't within reach of Class 4A team champion Independence even when Saturday began.
Not that the overall team finish was on the minds of any of the players when they woke up.
Both the doubles team and Konetzni rolled through the competition Friday and both sat poised to capitalize on great seasons.
Konetzni, a three-time state qualifier but playing in her first season of singles, took off with her best start in any of her state appearances.
She rolled past Barbara Bickner of Colby 6-0, 6-1, and pulled a modest upset in defeating Miranda Weaver of Hesston 7-5, 6-0.
"My first match wasn't very difficult, but my second was," Konetzni said. "The wind was to my advantage. She was a power hitter, so the wind kept blowing her balls out. I had to adjust and lob it a lot."
Lindbloom and Gulley, meanwhile, entered as one of the favorites to take the doubles title. They played that way Friday, too, blasting past a team from Andover Central in the opening round and ensuring a spot in the semifinals with a 6-3, 7-5 victory against a Smoky Valley squad.
Things didn't go as well when the play began Saturday.
Konetzni lost her chance to advance to the championship match, falling 6-4, 6-0 to Kayla Schabel of Independence.
Then, playing for third place she fell to Logan Wark of Colby, 6-4, 6-4.
"That was great," De Soto coach Michael Sullivan said of her weekend. "Our of her four matches she had to play three sub-state champions.
"It was awesome. The girls tennis program started in 1984 and to my knowledge that's the highest finish we've ever had."
Gulley and Lindbloom were able to repeat their 2006 championship match appearance by downing an Independence team 6-3, 6-2, but couldn't one-up their performance from a year ago, again falling just short of the championship.
"We played pretty well earlier, but we had to play Marysville again in the finals," Gulley said.
The De Soto pair, 34-4 on the season, came into the tournament 2-1 against the eventual champions, Katie Malotte and Sam Weeks of Marysville. Gulley and Lindbloom had plenty of confidence, too, as the Cats took the last two meetings, an easy one earlier in the season and a hotly contested, three-set match last week for the sub-state championship.
The Marysville pair ensured the season series would be even in a match worthy of back-and-forth rivalry.
Gulley and Lindbloom took the first set via a tiebreaker, 7-6 (5), but lost the next two, falling 6-2 and 6-4.
"It was really windy and it was hard for us to get our lobs in," Lindbloom said. "That was one of the main shots we used against them (at sub-state), so what side you were on decided whether you could lob or not.
"That's not an excuse. We should know how to play with the wind, but it did change how we played."
It was a crushing blow for the girls who made a state title their goal as soon as last season's tournament finished. Only as the day and the weekend wore on did their impressive career achievements begin to weigh in.
The team's second place finish capped one of the best seasons in program history. Combined the pair's three-year ride atop the state's doubles brackets -- they were third at state in 2005 -- it began to set in and offer some solace.
"They were disappointed they didn't win it," De Soto coach Michael Sullivan said. "As time progresses they'll realize that second place two years in a row, people don't do that.
"Even though they didn't win it, what they did over three years is pretty special."