Blue Valley West junior tennis player Max Kurzban despised the taste of losing.
He felt it most vividly in 2014, when he bowed out of the Kansas state quarterfinals as a freshman. He felt it again at times during his sophomore regular season.
But this spring, Kurzban ditched the whole losing thing. He went 23-0, won a Class 6A state title after making the jump up from Class 5A, and is The Star’s All-Metro boys tennis player of the year.
Rarely did anyone play Kurzban to a close match in 2016. In 11 of his 23 matches, his opponent failed to win a single game. One of his closest of the year came in the Eastern Kansas League finals against his teammate, Anil Chakka, who had him down 6-5 in an eight-game pro set. It was the first time Kurzban had faced a late deficit all year.
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“We were playing eight-game, so it wasn’t two out of three, and every game was so important,” Kurzban said. “In terms of being down, that was really the only point in the season where it could have gone the other way.”
Kurzban also got battles from the Class 6A state runner-up, Jack Santilli from Shawnee Mission East. The two met in the regional finals, which Kurzban won 7-6 (7-3), 6-2. And again, they faced each other for the Class 6A state title, which Kurzban took 6-3, 6-3.
All 23 wins, Kurzban said, came with his 2014 quarterfinals loss in mind. With a second straight state title in hand now, the sting of that one has finally subsided.
“It took a while to get over that loss because I knew I could have done better,” he said. “I used it as motivation to never do that again, and I went in every match this year with a purpose.”
The Star’s All-Metro boys tennis team
▪ Anil Chakka, Blue Valley West, sophomore. Chakka finished 19-6 and sixth at the Kansas 6A state tournament, with four of his losses coming to either Kurzban or Santilli. He took Kurzban to one of his closest matches of the season in the Eastern Kansas League finals, eventually losing 8-6.
▪ Carson Gates, Staley, sophomore. In his first season playing high school tennis, Gates took an undefeated record into the Missouri Class 2 state finals, where he lost to Parkway South’s Carson Haskins, the top-ranked player in the country for his age group. Gates was a sectional and district champion and finished 29-1.
▪ Max Kurzban, Blue Valley West, junior. Kurzban, the defending Kansas 5A champion, moved up a class and completed an undefeated season in Class 6A. Finishing at 23-0, the junior was an Eastern Kansas League and regional champion before winning the state finals.
▪ Jack Santilli, Shawnee Mission East, senior. Santilli is a familiar face in Kansas 6A tennis. This year was his third straight runner-up finish in the state tournament. He won the Sunflower League and finished 23-3, with all three losses coming to All-Metro player of the year Max Kurzban.
▪ Lee’s Summit (Kevin Glenn, senior, and Ethan Henry, sophomore). The duo finished 36-1 and placed fifth at the Missouri Class 2 state tournament, with their only loss coming against the state runners-up. They won district and sectional championships.
▪ Rockhurst (Collin Klumb, sophomore, and Justin Nogalski, senior). The tandem rolled through the postseason, winning the Missouri Class 2 state championship after collecting sectional and district titles. They supplied Rockhurst with a sixth-straight appearance in the doubles final. They were 19-2.