High School Sports

SM West senior Cao wins Kansas 6A singles title while BV North is best as a team

Shawnee Mission West’s Josephine Cao won the Kansas 6A state singles tennis championship Saturday.
Shawnee Mission West’s Josephine Cao won the Kansas 6A state singles tennis championship Saturday. Kansas City Star file photo

Josephine Cao and Blue Valley North left little doubt as to who the dominating forces were at this year’s Kansas 6A girls tennis state championships.

Cao, a senior from Shawnee Mission West, dominated her semifinal and final opponents — including her twin sister Katherine — Saturday at the College Boulevard Activity Center in Olathe and won her first state singles title. Cao won a doubles championship with her sister last year.

At the end of play Friday, Cao looked ahead to her semifinal match against Katherine with some dread, saying that playing against her sister was never easy. But in the semifinal match, Josephine Cao made it look that way in a 6-1, 6-3 victory.

She then turned around and dropped one fewer game in a 6-3, 6-0 victory over SM East sophomore Sarah Wilcox in the championship match.

Cao, who has committed to play collegiately at the University of Memphis and played in the junior qualifying tournament at the U.S. Open in doubles last summer, said the key to her playing well at state was “treating it as just another tournament.”

“I lost to Sarah twice last year,” Cao said. “But I beat her at regionals. That gave me a lot of confidence going into this match.”

Wilcox improved her place in singles from third last year to second this season.

“She kept me on the defensive, put me on the run a lot,” Wilcox said. “She’s been playing really well lately.

“I’m good with second place this year.”

BV North had both its doubles teams advance to the final and broke SM East’s four-year stranglehold on the state team championship with a dominating performance that included a doubles title by Karen Yan and Evelyn Chang, a second-place finish in doubles by Athena Tran and Lauren O’Brien and a third place in singles from Chloe Kuckelman.

The Mustangs amassed 59 points, outdistancing SM East by 13 points. SM West, behind Josephine Cao’s victory and Katherine’s fourth place in singles, finished third with 30 points.

BV North knew it would have a state champion before the doubles final was played. Yan and Chang defeated the SM East team of Gretchen Cooper and Larkin McLiney 6-0, 6-4 in one semifinal, while teammates Tran and O’Brien beat Mandy Novicoff and Gabby Lee of Blue Valley 6-1, 6-4, ensuring an all-Mustangs final.

In that final, Yan and Chang were just too steady and defeated Tran and O’Brien 6-0, 6-3.

“I almost hoped we wouldn’t have to play them,” Yan said. “It’s too hard playing your teammates. It’s so much more intense. I don’t think the score reflects the match. Every game went to deuce. We were just able to win the big points.”

Any residual pain from that match was nullified by the team championship, which the Mustangs had started thinking about after a strong finish at the 2014 state tournament, where they finished second to the Lancers.

“They actually outperformed what my initial expectations were,” Mustangs coach Tracey Johnson said. “They kept raising my expectations. When each individual realizes how important it is to contribute to the team … that’s what a coach hopes for.”

BV North had just one senior among the top six players on its roster, including two freshmen in the top two singles spots. But Johnson wasn’t ready to declare the beginning of a dynasty. Not yet.

“Tennis players are superstitious, so …,” she said. “As long as we continue to work hard, I think they’ll be able to realize a lot of the goals they’ve set for themselves.”