Tim Oberhelman, who for 22 seasons has coached the boys tennis team at Olathe Northwest High School, can finally scratch a Sunflower League championship off his bucket list.
Oberhelman had 12 second-place finishes on his resume and every single one of those were behind Shawnee Mission East, which has more or less ruled the league’s boys tennis scene for quite a few years.
That made Olathe Northwest’s four-point winning margin over SM East, the Kansas Class 6A three-time defending state champion, in the league boys tennis team standings even sweeter.
“It makes a grown man cry,” Oberhelman said. “After 20 some years of watching them win the Sunflower League — and then finally being able to win it — was a lot of fun.”
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Olathe Northwest and SM East met in all four of the league tennis finals, the No. 1 and No. 2 singles and doubles matches. The Ravens were victorious in three of the matches and SM East’s Jack Santilli won the No. 1 singles match.
Olathe Northwest’s Taylor Ficke finished second to Santilli, Lee Fitchett won the No. 2 singles match, Thompson Tong and Cutter Sanderson won the No. 1 doubles match and Andrew Buyle and David Boschma took the No. 2 doubles match.
“They are having a lot of fun,” Oberhelman said. “There has been an ethos this year of ‘no regrets.’ They just want to go out there and see what happens.”
Oberhelman, who teaches at Olathe South High School, stuck around to see Olathe South tennis players finish the tournament, while his Olathe Northwest squad members went to Winsteads for a team celebration. Olathe South placed third with a pair of third-place finishes in No. 1 and No. 2 singles.
Although there was some debate about the actual length of SM East’s winning streak, which has lasted at least 25 years according to Sunflower League coaches, there was no denying the significance of the end of its run.
That made SM East coach Sue Chipman’s actions during the awards ceremony even more special in Oberhelman’s eyes.
“Sue Chipman was the first one to come out and congratulate the boys,” Oberhelman said. “I thought that was just so classy of her to take the time to come out and hug the boys, congratulate them and tell them nice things like ‘You really deserve it,’ and ‘You fought hard.’”
Olathe Northwest and SM East will compete in different regionals, but that does not make the road any easier for the Ravens. Olathe Northwest, ranked fourth in the Kansas Tennis Coaches Association 6A state poll, will have first- and second-ranked Blue Valley Northwest and Blue Valley North to get past on Saturday at the College Boulevard Activity Center.
SM East, meanwhile, will head to Lawrence with the other Shawnee Mission Schools and play at the Rock Chalk Park Sports Pavilion.
“There is not going to be anyone who goes to state and does not get a medal,” Oberhelman said. “I honestly think that this regional is going to be six of the top eight players in the state of Kansas in singles and in doubles.”
With that in mind, Oberhelman had a simple message when he met with his Sunflower League champion team again on Friday.
“We don’t want to be a one-hit wonder, so let’s come back and do it again,” he said.