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Kansas state girls tennis: Five things to watch

Shawnee Mission West’s Katherine Cao will compete in the Kansas Class 6A girls tennis state tournament later this week in Olathe.
Shawnee Mission West’s Katherine Cao will compete in the Kansas Class 6A girls tennis state tournament later this week in Olathe. FILE PHOTO

The Kansas high school girls state tennis tournaments will take place Friday and Saturday at four sites — Class 6A in Olathe, Class 5A in Valley Center, Class 4A in Winfield and Class 3-1A in Prairie Village. Here are five storylines to watch this weekend.

1. Can Shawnee Mission East repeat?

The Lancers are looking for their fourth consecutive team state title, but this could be their toughest title defense yet.

Shawnee Mission East placed second in the Blue Valley Northwest regional behind Blue Valley North, but the Lancers were still able to qualify all six players for the Class 6A state tournament. The doubles team of Joie Freirich and Lucy Kendall was the top finisher, placing third. They enter the state tournament with a 19-6 record, which is identical to the Lancers’ fourth-place team — Gretchen Cooper and Larkin McLiney.

SM East’s singles qualifiers are Sarah Wilcox and Aidan Epstein.

2. What can the Cao sisters do apart?

Shawnee Mission West sisters Josephine and Katherine Cao proved to be the best Class 6A doubles team in the state team last year, but the senior twins decided to split up and try their chances in singles this season.

So far, it appears the decision has worked out just fine. Both girls are thriving on their own and have a combined 42-4 record.

Josephine will earn a higher seed after finishing second at the Blue Valley Northwest regional. She is 18-1 after losing to Blue Valley North freshman Chloe Kuckelman in the regional championship match.

Katherine is just one match behind with a 17-2 record and third-place finish in the regional.

3. Will the Kansas City area produce a singles champion?

Three players from the 913 area enter this week’s state tournaments as regional champions and each has a reasonable shot at bringing home a state title.

Kansas City Christian’s Anna Vialle will try to bring home the school’s first state title since Sara Goodwin won the Class 3-2-1A crown in 2012. Vialle has an 18-3 record, but could have the toughest road.

In Class 6A, Alexa Tiefel of Blue Valley will chase her second state title overall, but first in singles. She won the 2013 doubles championship with Morgan Steffes and placed fourth in singles a year ago. She has a 21-1 record.

The final regional champion was Blue Valley North’s Chloe Kuckelman, who won the Blue Valley Northwest regional. She is 24-3.

4. Will doubles teams lead Bishop Miege to victory in Class 4A?

Bishop Miege took the top two doubles spots in the De Soto tournament and will try to continue their success this week at state in Winfield.

Miege’s Anna Schramek and Grace Wheeler won the title and improved to 14-8 with a victory against Sarah Carlsen and Zoey Slettehaugh. The second team is 15-4 going into the state tournament.

The Stags should also get a boost from their singles qualifiers — Mary Kate Rielley and Lily Gibson. They placed third and fourth and have 11-5 and 12-6 records, respectively.

5. How will the freshmen fare?

Six freshmen are preparing to make their first trip to the Kansas state tourament and — based on their regional results — each one could be a legitimate contender in their respective brackets.

Blue Valley North’s Chloe Kuckelman and Blue Valley’s Gabby Lee each won regional titles in Class 6A last week, with Kuckelman taking singles and Lee taking a doubles crown with Mandy Novicoff. Lee has the advantage of a senior partner, who has helped her to a 21-3 record.

Shawnee Mission East’s Lucy Kendall will also compete in doubles, after finishing third in her regional. Olathe South’s Cady Lynn placed second in single.

The final freshman qualifier is Kansas City Christian’s Emma Wheeler, who will play doubles in Class 3-2-1A with sophomore Sophie Hill.

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