There would come a moment, Blue Valley West coach Traci Rhodes promised sophomore Max Kurzban, when Kurzban would know the Class 5A singles championship was his.
It came when Kurzban broke Hampton’s serve in the third set of a marathon match for the title with Salina Central’s Zachary Hampton on Sunday. It only knotted the score at three games apiece, but Rhodes — and Kurzban — knew the significance.
“We could just see it in his eyes after that,” Rhodes said. “He looked at me after that game, and he did his fist pump and I did mine and I said, ‘You know,’ and he just looked back and I could tell that was it.”
Kurzban went on and outlasted Hampton in a three-set thriller, winning 6-4, 4-6, 6-4 in a match that lasted nearly three hours.
Adding to the suspense was the fact that the team title would be decided by the winner of that match. BV West edged Salina Central 51-47 for its first team title because of Kurzban’s victory.
“I just looked at my team over in the stands and I didn’t want to let them down,” Kurzban said. “I didn’t want to go down the way I was going down. I looked at them and they inspired me to be tough and keep fighting.”
Kurzban was winning in the second set when Hampton took an injury timeout, a delay that visibly upset Kurzban and Rhodes. Hampton returned to the court and rallied to close out the set and force a third.
Hampton carried the momentum over into the final set, taking a 3-1 lead by breaking Kurzban’s serve with powerful ground strokes. That’s when Kurzban started hitting deeper on the court, keeping Hampton at bay, and picking at his backhand, not necessarily a weakness of Hampton’s but not his strength.
The result was a stunning reversal. Kurzban rescued himself from a dire situation — potentially losing his own title, and as a result, the team title — into a championship celebration for everyone.
“It just strings it all together,” Kurzban said. “I couldn’t ask for a better weekend. This is what we came here for.”
BV West was also bolstered by both of its doubles entries. Hunter Sanders and Ryan Moody won the title, and Bradley Mittleman and Hadley Cornish placed fifth.
Sanders and Moody proved to be too big of hitters for any team to handle Sunday. They overwhelmed Newton’s Riley Kingsley and Shawn Bontrager, the team that defeated Mittleman and Cornish in the quarterfinals, 6-3, 6-3 for the championship.
It was an emotional victory for Sanders, who recalled starting his tennis career at Blue Valley Southwest as the No. 27 singles player on the roster.
“I wasn’t even on JV,” Sanders said. “I was on the practice squad and didn’t even play in a match. After that year, I really started to work on my game and tennis became my life. I saw how good the varsity players were and I thought if I could get that good someday it would be incredible.”
De Soto’s Zoller finishes fifth
De Soto junior Luke Zoller bounced back from a quarterfinals loss to win three straight matches and place fifth at the Kansas Class 4A state tennis tournament in Pratt, Kan.
“He played really consistent tennis and looked for his opportunities to hit his shots,” De Soto coach Justin Hoffman said. “More often than not those opportunities presented themselves, he hit the shot he needed and was able to finish.”
Along the way, Zoller avenged a regional loss to Bishop Miege’s Will Grier. Grier placed seventh, and teammate John Schultz finished 10th.
Paola’s Justin Salisbury and Derek Weaver were the highest local finishers, placing fourth in doubles. Teammates Collin Graves and Eric Haefele finished 12th for the Panthers, who tied for fifth place.
The Star’s Kathleen Gier contributed to this report.