Chloe Kuckelman didn’t really need much more motivation for Saturday’s Kansas Class 6A singles state championship match than simply looking across the net and seeing Shawnee Mission East’s Sarah Wilcox.
After all, it was Wilcox who denied Kuckelman a shot at playing for the state title a year ago, beating the Blue Valley North standout 6-3, 6-4 in the semifinals. And it was Wilcox who denied Kuckelman a regional title last week, taking a 0-6, 6-4, 6-4 win after Kuckelman had won two previous regular-season meetings.
But when the Mustang sophomore stepped onto the court for Saturday’s title match, there was only one person on her mind. And it wasn’t Wilcox.
It was twin sister Ellie Kuckelman, who saw an early-September back injury sideline her for the remainder of the season.
“I was thinking about her the whole time,” Chloe Kuckelman said. “I felt really bad for her because she really wanted to be out there, too. I just wanted to do it for her.”
Channeling some of her sister’s Type A personality, Chloe Kuckelman took control of the title match with Wilcox early and never let go, capping a 30-1 season with a 6-2, 6-2 victory.
And when Kuckelman came off the Kossover Tennis Center court, the first person there to congratulate her was Ellie.
“I wasn’t sure I would win, but I told her I’d fight my hardest the whole time because I knew she would do the same,” Kuckelman said. “She definitely has a competitive attitude and I think I got that during that second set, getting really competitive and aggressive. That was some of my best tennis I’ve played.”
Kuckelman’s singles crown also played a big role in BV North capturing the 6A team title for the second straight year. The Mustangs also got a runner-up finish from the doubles team of Evelyn Chang and Karen Yan and sixths from singles player Athena Tran and the doubles team of Bridget Brown and Sydnee Paisner to score 49 points, edging SM East by six points for the title.
East also placed all four state entries with Wilcox second and Caro Bush taking 11th in singles play and the doubles team of Joie Beth Freirich and Larkin McLiney placing third and Gretchen Cooper and Lucy Kendall finishing fifth.
After Kuckelman’s title in singles, the Mustangs had hopes of making it a clean sweep. Chang and Yan were the defending state doubles champions and easily reached the finals with a 6-1, 6-3 win over SM Northwest’s Tamerra Horton and Lilly Oliver.
The task in the finals was a great one, however. Not only were Blue Valley Northwest’s Kylee White and Alisa Prinyarux undefeated entering the title match, but had also handed the Mustang duo their only loss in the Eastern Kansas League finals, rallying from 6-3 down for an 8-7 (7-4) victory.
The rematch wasn’t nearly as dramatic, but was the battle everyone expected. White and Prinyarux once again prevailed, taking a 6-4, 7-5 victory to finish the season 20-0.
“We know those girls really well,” said Prinyarux, a freshman. “It was going to come down to which team was the more aggressive team, put away the balls and worked together best.”
Prinyarux and White hadn’t really had a full season to fully develop their chemistry. Prinyarux began the year playing singles, while White began the year wondering if she’d even get a shot at playing her senior season.
After placing third at state in doubles as a freshman and second as a sophomore, White developed nerve problems in her back that completely wiped out her junior year. She had surgery over the summer, which cast her senior year in doubt as well.
“About four weeks before the season, I thought maybe I’d try to play doubles and see what happens,” White said. “I went out, my back felt great and I had an awesome partner.
“I had no idea we would do this well. I thought I’d be really rusty and maybe we’d get top-three at state or something. But we kept getting better and by state I was playing as well as I did before I got hurt.”
Before the season, the Kuckelman sisters envisioned a scenario where they could perhaps play each other for the state singles title. But when Ellie went down with a stress fracture in her back after the first tournament of the season, it left Chloe on her own to chase the state title.
“She was really devastated when she found out she couldn’t play,” Chloe Kuckelman said. “I was pretty upset too because we always play each other. So I told her I’d play for her and try to win it for both of us.”
Olathe South’s Cady Lynn finished third in singles, bouncing back from a 6-1, 6-1 loss to Kuckelman in the semifinals to beat Blue Valley West’s Brylin Staats 6-0, 6-4 for third. Staats had fallen 6-0, 6-0 to Wilcox in the semifinals.