OLATHE Jill Harkin largely kept her emotions on Saturday. Despite the fact that Harkin found herself in highly charged situations during the final rounds of the Class 6A girls tennis state tournament, she rarely showed the outside world what she was feeling.
But when Tony Ingram, the girls’ tennis coach from Manhattan, met her at the door of Court 1 at the Olathes College Boulevard Activity Center, Harkin could no longer hold it.
The sophomore MHS hugged her coach and wept into his shoulder. Tears flowed after she just fell short of her season goal: to win a state championship.
Harkin lost to Blue Valley Norths Callie Flanagan 6-0, 6-4 in the state final. It was Harkin’s only loss of her second season, as she finished the year 31-1.
I was just starting to cry, Harkin said. I really wanted to win. I’ve been waiting for this for a long time, a year. Now I have to wait another year for a chance.
While her track record might suggest that her way to the final was easy, Harkin proved she had more than just skill to make it to the championship game. Her semi-final win over Olathe Wests Ashley Jacobson showed her heart.
When Harkin arrived at the tennis complex, the wind was already blowing. By the time she started her race, a steady 25 mph wind was blowing from the south, with recurring gusts reaching well above that number.
The courses, which run from north to south, were ravaged by the gusts of wind, with players hitting south, forced to put everything in their shots to get them over the net, while players hitting north had to be careful that they didn’t shoot too far.
While a windless day in Kansas is likely to be anomalous, conditions on Saturday presented a new challenge for Harkin. Growing up, she did most of her workouts indoors, developing a style of play that is not conducive to high winds.
I have a flat trajectory, which, when it’s really windy, doesn’t work well at all, Harkin said. It works well in indoor tennis, and that’s how I started playing, so it just brought a whole new element to the game.
It took a Harkin a while to adjust to the circumstances as she found herself in a 5-0 hole against Jacobson. Despite winning the next two games, Harkin ultimately lost the opening set 6-2.
Harkin continued to struggle with consistency in the second set as her serve struggled to reach his goal and put her on the defensive. In the end, Harkin was down 3-2 and seemed destined for another loss in the semi-final, as she had experienced in her freshman year.
Harkin fought, however. She began moving Jacobson across the field, devouring the Olathe West senior shot by shot. She went on to win four games in a row to win the set 6-3.
By the time the two got to their final set, it looked like Jacobson was out of gas. Harkin made quick work of her and won 6-2 to beat her ticket to the final.
If she steps between the lines, she’s a competitor, Ingram said. When she steps between the lines, her competitive spirit and focus is on a different level. I think that’s a great quality she has at such a young age.
However, the length of the semi-final matches deflated Harkin. It was the first time this season that the sophomore was actually tested and driven to a third set.
It took me a lot to get back in the semifinals, Harkin said. It took more than two hours and I didn’t have an hour between (that match and the final). I only had about 45 minutes.
Not only did Harkin rest, but she also had little experience compared to her opponent. Flanagan was on her way to her fourth state championship as she won state titles as part of Blue Valley Norths doubles teams in her freshman and sophomore seasons and finished second in the singles in her junior season.
Besides Harkin, Flanagan was also the only player to participate in the state tournament with an unbeaten record.
The senior took the first set with ease, controlling the pace of the game and the entire field to win 6-0.
However, Harkin managed to fight it in the second set and at one point took a 4-3 lead over Flanagan. Harkin’s lead was short lived. Her energy ran out and Flanagan comfortably finished the set 6-4 to take the state title.
While the disappointment of the loss will remain with Harkin for a while, she has shown progress during her brief Manhattan career. After finishing third as a freshman, she now finished second as a sophomore.
At the same time, the three other semi-finalists in this year’s tournament were all seniors. Five of the eight quarter-finalists were seniors. With the attrition threatening the state singles bracket, Harkin should be considered the favorite to win the state title on her way to her junior and senior years, barring unforeseen circumstances.
I’m going to think about this when I’m practicing and working, Harkin said. I just use this as a motivator for me.
Manhattan finishes third in the team classification
Despite Harkin being the only Manhattan player to make it to day two of the state tournament, MHS took third place as a team. Shawnee Mission East won the team title.
Senior Kayla Lei won her opening game against Garden Citys Brooke Ptacek 6-0, 6-0. However, she lost her quarter finals to Shawnee Mission Easts Allison Wilcox.
Lei fell 9-2 in the consolation quarter-final against Blue Valley Norths Sophia Baillos.
Manhattans will double teams that are both lost in the opening round. The duo of Maura Weins and Hannah Loub lost to Blue Valley Norths Divya Gupta and Caroline Thummel 6-0, 6-0. Manhattan’s Ava Bahr and Cooper Lohman dropped their match against Blue Valleys Sophia DeSimone and Sree Mylavarapu 6-1, 6-0.
Weins and Loub managed to win their first consolation match 9-3 at Campus Erin Jackson and Savanna Schmidt. However, they fell 9-0 in the quarterfinals to consolation against Blue Valley Norths’ Christine OBrien and Emerson MacKenzie.
Bahr and Lohman also won their consolation opener against Hutchinson’s Tia Hines and Elizabeth Jackson 9-6. They were eliminated from the tournament in the quarterfinals to the consolation by Olathe Easts Hali Liu and Ruby Moley 9-7.
The girls who entered (Friday) all earned a point for the team, Ingram said. When you reach this level, the draw has a lot to do with it. I am proud of their efforts, proud of their victories.