In her state championship match in October, Blue Valley North tennis player Ellie Kuckelman found herself at an impasse.
If she won this final point, the junior would win her first Kansas Class 6A championship.
If she didn’t, her twin, Chloe, would get the chance to secure her second such title in a row.
For Ellie, neither outcome was particularly favorable. Playing against her sister has always presented a moral dilemma.
“If I’m up, I kind of feel bad,” Ellie said. “If I’m down, I want to come back. Nothing makes me happy when I’m playing her.”
It goes both ways.
But this year, Ellie got the upper hand. She beat Chloe for the second time this season, won the state title and helped Blue Valley North secure its third straight Class 6A team championship.
Ellie capped her undefeated junior season at 30-0, giving her the most single-season wins in Blue Valley North history. For her efforts, Ellie was selected as The Star’s All-Metro girls tennis player of the year.
“Ellie is determined to find a weakness in her opponent and use it to her advantage,” coach Tracey Johnson said. “Her consistency is one of her major attributes.”
Ellie, who is committed to continue her tennis career at Nebraska alongside her sister, was playing just her second full high school season. A stress reaction in her lower back caused her to miss her sophomore campaign.
But after a winter playing basketball and a summer on the national tennis circuit, she returned stronger than she felt last year.
“I felt like that first week last year was pretty good,” Ellie said. “I was feeling really confident. … I was just carrying that over with more determination to keep the pressure on my opponents (this year).”
Ellie placed first in every tournament Blue Valley North entered, including the Wichita Collegiate tournament and the Aquinas Invitational at the Plaza. She went the entire season without losing a set.
Ellie and Topeka-Hayden junior Brooklyn Hunter, who competed in Class 4A, were the only singles champions in Kansas with perfect records this year.
Ellie hardly noticed how special her season had become until after she faced Chloe for the state title. They’d both wanted to face each other in the final round, and they each won their semifinals (Ellie defeated BV Northwest sophomore Alisa Prinyarux; Chloe beat Shawnee Mission East senior Sarah Wilcox) to make it happen.
By then, it made little difference which Kuckelman sister won. Blue Valley North had already secured the team title.
“It was nice to get it this year but I was just happy I got to play (Chloe) and that our whole team was good,” Ellie said.
The Star’s 2017 Fall All-Metro selections
Boys cross country: Victor Mugeche, Blue Springs, senior.
Mugeche won the Missouri Class 4 state championship, and his winning time of 15 minutes, 29 seconds was among the best five performances in state-meet history. That was a fitting cap to a decorated season. Mugeche won all nine races he ran this season, including his sectional, district and conference titles. He was crowned the champion of the Rim Rock Farm High Classic in Lawrence, a meet that included competitors from several states. And his season-opening time of 15 minutes, 11 seconds stood as the best in Missouri for the entire season. Mugeche plans to run at Missouri next year.
Girls cross country: Tori Findley, Blue Springs South, senior
Over the course of the season, Findley raced against participants from nine states. She did not lose once. Her unbeaten year finished with the Missouri Class 4 state championship, a meet she won by 15 seconds. Her season-best time of 17 minutes, 40 seconds came at the Chile Pepper Festival, one of the top meets in the region. Her average margin of victory stood at 28 seconds. Findley has signed to run cross country and track at Missouri.
Gymnastics: Sydney Weeks, Olathe Northwest, senior
Despite taking several years off from the sport because of injuries, Weeks was tough to beat in her first high school gymnastics season. She won the all-around title at eight of nine meets, including the Sunflower League and Kansas state meets. Her first-place finishes in the vault, beam and floor exercises at state also led Olathe Northwest to the team’s first overall state championship. Weeks scored 37.425 points in the season finale, edging Lawrence Free State’s Talia Gay by a margin of 0.8 for the all-around title. Weeks’ vault score of 9.8 tied the all-time best score in Kansas state meet history.
Girls golf: Megan Propeck, Notre Dame de Sion, freshman
Propeck had no trouble finding a groove in her first high school postseason. Three weeks. Three tournaments. Three championships. She won the Missouri Class 2 state title with a two-day total of 141 at Sedalia Country Club, rounds that came in imperfect weather conditions. She also won the state sectional and district tournaments by four strokes each, including a round of 4-under par at districts.
Softball: Jordan Weber, Lee’s Summit West, junior
The Missouri commit overwhelmed opposing hitters all season. En route to a 23-3 record on the mound, she posted a 0.81 earned run average and struck out 314 hitters in 173 2/3 innings. On three occasions, she was perfect, throwing unblemished seven-inning games against Blue Springs and Raymore-Peculiar and a shortened outing against Blair Oaks. In addition to that, she threw three other no-hitters and totaled 12 shutouts.
Boys swimming: Liam Bresette, Lee’s Summit North, senior
Bresette not only won a pair of Missouri Class 2 state championships earlier this month, he broke state records in both events. He turned his focus late in the year to the sprints and completed the 200-yard freestyle in 1 minute, 37.04 seconds and the 100 freestyle in 44.56 seconds at the state meet. He was also a member of the Lee’s Summit North 200 medley relay, which won the state title. Bresette signed a letter of intent to swim at Arizona State.
Boys soccer: Kyle Ruark, Rockhurst, senior
The Missouri Class 4 player of the year led the Rockhurst Hawklets to the state championship this fall. Playing in the central midfield, Ruark scored 26 goals and collected 13 assists. He also played a role in the defensive half of the field for the Hawklets, who were 27-3. Ruark, an All-American selection, scored the game-winning goal in the state final. He has committed to Chicago.
Girls tennis: Ellie Kuckelman, Blue Valley North, junior
See story, this page.
Volleyball: Allison Coens, St. James Academy, senior
Coens’ performance in the state championship game against Aquinas was hard to match. She made 21 kills in the title-clinching victory, which gave St. James its second title in three years. Coens, a Louisiana State beach volleyball signee, was named a finalist for the Evelyn Gates Award following a season in which she made 452 kills, served 35 aces and recorded 283 digs. She was player of the year in Kansas Class 5A and the Eastern Kansas League.