Clarke, Riggs lead Buffs back to Class 6A state tennis meet
By BRETT MARSHALL
Only one player in Garden City High School boys tennis program history has qualified for the Kansas State Class 6A championship four times.
That would be Chad Krug, who in 1994 finished runner-up in singles at the state meet, the highest finish ever for a GCHS tennis player.
That all changed last Friday when seniors Brian Clarke, this time in singles, and Evan Riggs, in doubles, placed second in the regionals at Dodge City to earn their fourth straight trip to the state tournament, which will begin at 11:30 a.m. Friday at the Kossover Tennis Center in Topeka.
Clarke and Riggs had been doubles partners dating back to their freshman season, when they were 22-17 and discovering just how difficult the state meet was. As sophomores, the two went 25-16 and again made an early exit without a win at state. The third time proved not to be a charm as well as juniors, going 26-10 and not making it out of the first round once again.
Now, it is their final time on the court and they want to make it a different experience.
Riggs will be playing with fellow senior Denton Keller, and the pair has put together a 23-12 record while Clarke has compiled a 20-9 record by playing No. 1 all season. Junior Sebastian Kyaw (26-9) also qualified for state, placing fifth at the regional meet.
For Clarke, the transition from doubles to singles was relatively smooth.
"There's more running, but I play a lot of singles in the summer and we do a lot of training that way," Clarke said. "It just feels different not to be playing with Evan. Singles seems like more of a mental game because the responsibility is all on your own game. If you win, you win. If you lose, you lose. You've got to have a pretty strong mental game for the most part."
Clarke said he had not spent a lot of time thinking about the accomplishment of making state all four years. He would like nothing better than to finally break through and win a match.
"I've yet to get a win, and that would be nice to represent the community, the school, the coach and get a win," Clarke said. "I think I've developed into a pretty aggressive player. I think my strength is in getting breaks and playing defense."
While the transition for Clarke from doubles to singles came smoothly, Riggs said it took a while for he and Keller to find that something extra that has allowed them to play some of their best tennis at the end of the season.
"We've known each other since being really young, and we've played other sports together, so I think we're pretty comfortable playing doubles," Riggs said. "It's been nice making it to state each year, but now it's time to get over the hump and just go win. We've got the ability to do that."
Keller, who had played doubles for two seasons with his older brother Brennan, said he was looking forward to making it back to the state tournament as well.
"I think playing No. 1 doubles this year, I've been able to see better competition with Evan," Keller said. "He's taught me how to play at the net more. He's a better volleyer. I had played more at the baseline, much like my brother had. Last year, there were nerves playing with Brennan. This time, I'm just excited if anything. There's really no pressure."
Robinson said he was happy to get his two singles players and the No. 1 doubles team after the Buffs had qualified the entire team a year ago, a first for the program. But, unlike other years, the Buffs had a runner-up regional team plaque to bring home, a first for Robinson as coach in 10 years.
"This has been the best four years since I've been head coach, and Brian and Evan have been a big part of that," Robinson said of his two most experienced players. "I think Brian has made a good adjustment back to singles and Evan and Denton have played well together, especially of late."
Before the regional meet, it was uncertain whether or not Keller would even be able to play. He had suffered an ankle sprain in the semifinals of the regional tourney, but still played in the championship match. But, the ankle improved, and the duo played some of their best tennis of the season.
"I think it forced me to do more poaching (playing closer to center of the net)," Riggs said. "We've gotten more aggressive and been able to get points more quickly. You've got to take the attack in doubles."