The 2017 Class 6A state tennis tournament was somewhat of a breakthrough for the Garden City Buffaloes.
Not often in recent memory has either a singles player or doubles team been able to play past two matches of the big season-ending tournament.
But then sophomores Daniel Darter and Will Keller did just that, winning two consolation-round matches after dropping a second round match following a first-round bye.
Then, the Buffs’ sophomores dropped their consolation quarterfinal match to finish 2-2 at the state meet and 33-9 overall.
Now, a year later, the current junior duo is looking to make more noise at the 2018 state, which begins at 10 a.m. Friday at the Kossover Tennis Center in Topeka.
The Buffs’ top duo advanced by winning the recent 6A regional title in three convincing victories, and helped the Buffs to the team regional crown, as well, the first such accomplishment in 20 seasons (1998).
With a glossy 29-3 record, including four tournament victories and three runner-up finishes, the Buffs’ duo appears primed to do just that.
“I think we’ve learned not to underestimate ourselves like we did last year,” Darter said on Wednesday afternoon. “We’re proud of how we’ve played this year, but we know the teams at state are really good. The three teams we’ve lost to this year are all good.”
Keller reinforced his partner’s thoughts about how different their approach will be this year.
“Last year, I thought we’d just go and get stomped, but we won a couple of matches,” Keller said. “The teams back east have more individual coaching all year long, but I think we’re stronger mentally. When they get behind a little, they tend to get frustrated.”
Along with the Buffs’ No. 1 doubles team, coach Rod Robinson will be taking his No. 2 doubles team of seniors Daniel Chacon and Brian Carrera, who bring a 27-10 to the state tournament after placing fourth at last week’s 6A regional in Wichita.
“It feels good to qualify because last year we came up short of qualifying,” said Carrera. “I think our strength on the court is our speed and quickness, and we can cover a lot of area.”
Chacon said it felt good to accomplish their No. 1 goal of the season.
“From Day 1, our goal has been to go to state, so this is really exciting,” Chacon said. “We’re going for the experience, and also to enjoy the atmosphere and do the best we can. We know there’s good teams but we have a lot of confidence in how we are playing.”
Included in the trip will be No. 1 singles player Huy Nguyen, who compiled a 23-13 record during his first year playing in the Buffs’ top position in singles. Nguyen took fifth at the regionals, just squeaking in the top six finishers to advance to the state tournament.
“State’s gonna be fun and there’s a lot of good players,” Nguyen said. “I’ll go and try my best. I’ve got better this season and I’m interested to see how I can play.”
Nguyen had perhaps the toughest avenue to qualifying at regionals, with multiple matches being long.
“It was a long day, lots of long matches,” Nguyen said of his regional competition. “My forehand and serve are better, and I’m able to get my first serves in better, using both spin and kick serves.”
Darter and Keller captured titles at Hutchinson, Haysville-Campus, Western Athletic Conference and the 6A regionals while runner-up finishes came at Salina Central, McPherson and Topeka, each time losing one match.
Breaking down the Darter/Keller season, the junior pair won 248 games while losing just 80 en route to their 29-3 mark. It has been a season of continued growth and experience factoring into the team’s success.
The only player not qualifying for state was No. 2 singles Nathan Morren, who just barely missed getting the sixth spot.
“The boys have had a good season, and we’d like to be playing several matches on Saturday,” Robinson said.
Class 3-2-1A State
Scott City’s Beavers will be sending its own contingent of tennis players to Wichita for the Class 3-2-1A state tournament on Friday.
The Beavers qualified their full contingent of singles players and doubles teams at the South Barber regional last week.
Junior Josiah Evans won the regional and will take a 27-2 record to the state meet while teammate William Cupp, a sophomore, is 18-1 after a third-place finish at regionals.
On the doubles side of the competition, senior Porter Irwin and junior Chaseton Cupp placed third at regionals and owns a 21-6 record going to the state tourney. Sophomore Christian Wright and junior Miles Haire (9-13) round out the Beavers squad.
The Friday opening round begins at 10 a.m. at the Riverside Tennis Complex. Saturday play starts at 9 a.m.