Blue Valley West junior Max Kurzban sailed into the Kansas 6A regional championship match Saturday afternoon at Indian Creek, dropping just three games in three matches. But Kurzban knew his final match was going to push him to the limit.
A year ago, Shawnee Mission East Jack Santilli beat Kurzban a couple of times. So far, 2016 belongs to Kurzban.
Kurzban defeated Santilli 7-6 (7-4), 6-2, claiming the 6A regional title and helping the Jaguars win the team title. Blue Valley West finished with 20 points, finishing five ahead of Blue Valley Northwest.
“It is great because I train with these guys every single day,” Kurzban said of Blue Valley West winning the team title. “This is the highlight of my high school year every year because I get to spend it with these guys.”
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Kurzban, who won the Kansas 5A state title last year, improved to 19-0 this season.
Despite weary legs by both players, Kurzban and Santilli dug deep in the first set. Kurzban got the first break to take a 3-2 lead. Santilli, a senior, fired right back with a break. The same thing happened a little later when Kurzban broke Santilli for a 5-4 lead and Santilli came right back.
“I just tried to scrap out ever play I could, make first serves and stay aggressive,” Kurzban said.
The first set came down to the tiebreaker. Kurzban bolted to a 5-2 lead and that advantage was enough to hold off Santilli.
“I think that was huge,” Blue Valley West coach Traci Rhodes said of the tiebreaker. “He had a chance to serve out the set and didn’t get it done, but he came back in the tie breaker. It says a lot about his mental game and how much he has improved.”
Kurzban quickly took control in the second set, building a 4-1 lead. Not to make excuses for Santilli, but he had another appointment Saturday evening: his senior prom.
“Jack has done a great job all year,” SM East coach Sue Chipman said. “He has seen Max before and they have been competitive and close matches. I saw the same thing today. Jack was in hurry, I think, to get to prom. His whole group is taking pictures and he is not there.
“I told him whatever happens we will see him next week at state. Max did play very well and played a good match.”
In the championship doubles, the Blue Valley North team of Brady Flanagan and Connor Garrett beat Blue Valley West’s Ryan Moody and Bradley Mittleman, 6-4, 6-3.
“It feels pretty good and gives us momentum going into state,” Flanagan said. “Our regional is clearly the toughest in 6A. It is pretty good to come out on top of this one.”
Garrett said they came out with a positive attitude and tried to have some fun.
Blue Valley West played that way the entire day. Last year Blue Valley West won the 5A state title but has slipped under the radar this year in 6A.
“I am so proud of my team,” Rhodes said. “We had a goal all season to try to repeat a state championship since we won 5A last year. We have actually been unranked most of the season so we call ourselves the ‘Dark Horses,’ hoping nobody sees us coming.”