No place like home
By BRETT MARSHALL
There were no long road trips on Saturday for the Garden City High School boys tennis team.
There were no back-to-back days of tournament competition.
And, there was no cold or wet weather to dampen the play for the Buffs when they played host to their eight-team Garden City Invitational at the GCHS Tennis Complex.
Best of all, the Buffs took advantage of all those to capture team honors with 28 points to runner-up and Western Athletic Conference rival Dodge City's 24 points.
The Buffs did it with a balanced performance, earning first places in No. 2 singles from senior Dozie Ekweariri and in No. 2 doubles from Joe Basillo and Jose Depaz. No. 1 singles Sebastian Kyaw took second, and No. 1 doubles Esteban Neave and Dylan Victor placed fourth.
All in all, a good day on the courts for the Buffs.
"It went pretty smooth today, and I felt like my legs were strong," Ekweariri said after his 8-3 thrashing of Dodge City's Jacob Waldman in the No. 2 singles final. "Today was nice. Only three matches."
Ekweariri opened with an 8-1 win over Colby's Billy Selley and then followed with another 8-1 rout of Pratt's David Parmar.
The biggest battle, as it is for many outdoor spring sports in western Kansas, was with the wind. Steady wind of 20 mph with gusts up to 30 mph made play challenging for all contestants.
"When you've got the wind at your back, you just try to slice the ball and when you're into the wind, you try to rip your forehands," Ekweariri said of the strategy he employed. "I think you have to be more careful with the wind and can be more aggressive into it."
It seemed to work as Ekweariri rolled to a 4-0 lead and then cruised to his win, and in the process improved his singles season record to 10-1.
Kyaw rolled to his first wins of the day before running into Great Bend nemesis Grant Harris, falling behind 5-0 before making a brief rally, only to lose 8-2.
Kyaw reached the finals with wins of 8-1 over Colby's Chase Hartwell and 8-2 over Henry Gridley of Wichita East.
"I think after playing at Salina and McPherson and seeing such good teams and players, it was nice for them to not play state champions in the first round," GCHS coach Rod Robinson said. "It's always nice to win at home in front of your friends and family."
Robinson said he was especially proud of his No. 2 doubles squad, considering they had only practiced twice and had never played together competitively.
"For the first day together in competition, they're a good surprise," Robinson said. "I think we expected the two singles players to get to the finals. The time off got them rested. We didn't practice too hard early in the week."
Basillo and Depaz garnered the gold medal with an 8-2 win over the Dodge City tandem of Wyatt Rankin and Thomas Finley. Previously, they won 8-3 over Wichita East's Aaron Wagle and Mahir Khan and then 8-1 over Colby's Alec Onstad and Tyler Oren.
The No. 1 doubles team of Neave and Victor struggled, finishing fourth. They won their opener, 8-3 over Great Bend's Jun Rui Chen and Daniel Marshall before being upended by eventual champions Liam Kahmeyer and Christain Kurz of Pratt. In the consolation bracket, the Buffs' duo beat Liberal's Mitchell Irby and Payton Grant, 8-2 before falling to Hays' Andrew McGinnis and Austin Berry, 8-3, in the third-place match.
Kyaw now has a 7-8 season mark while Victor and Neave are 2-2 and Basillo and Depaz are 3-0.
Once again, the Buffs have little respite as they left Sunday afternoon for the Topeka High Invitational, which was slated to get under way at 9 a.m. today.
Results in Scoreboard, Page B2.