Groundbreaking state success for Panther tennis
Kevin Cooper thought his Creston/O-M tennis team could be on the cusp of something special this spring.
As it turned out, he was right.
Even with the graduation losses of several quality senior boys — including state doubles qualifiers Colby Taylor and Bryce McIlravy — it was a history-making season for Creston/O-M tennis. Cooper summarized some of those accomplishments at the team’s banquet Wednesday night at Taylor Park.
“Coming into this year, it was kind of one of those deals where we knew we were going to be close in some situations, both guys and girls, for getting to state this year,” Cooper said. “I said last year at this time that I thought our girls team was a year ahead of schedule, in regards to numbers and things like that, and we pretty much proved that with our girls record and how our girls stepped up and performed. On the guys team, we had an enjoyable year with several guys moving up several positions, and the year Garret Taylor had was simply amazing.”
On the boys side, senior Taylor surpassed all other Panthers on record by placing fifth in Class 1A singles. Taylor went 4-1 in the state tournament held at Byrne’s Park Tennis Center, losing only in the quarterfinals to eventual third-place finisher Cam Long of Dubuque Wahlert.
Taylor was the program’s first singles qualifier for state tennis since Tony Hartman in 2006.
He was the first singles medalist since eighth-place John Brentnall in the one-class meet in 1989, and the program’s highest finisher ever. (Brentnall was the No. 1 player on the 1989 Panther squad that placed third in the one-class team tournament.)
Along the way, Taylor ended up higher in the state field than two players who had defeated him earlier in the season. In the match to play in the consolations for fifth place, Taylor avenged a regular-season loss to Red Oak four-time state qualifier Jordan Nelson, who entered state play as a district champ with a 13-1 record.
During the regular season, Taylor (18-6) had lost only to Nelson, Shenandoah foreign exchange student Phillip Meier and North Polk sophomore Nathan Greiner, who topped Taylor for a district championship, 6-2, 6-1.
At the state tournament, Greiner and Meier both failed to advance to the second day of competition at Byrne’s Park Tennis Complex in Waterloo, while Taylor was becoming the winner of the consolation bracket. Taylor was third in the Hawkeye 10 Conference singles competition, and fifth at state.
At the Class 1A district meet in Boone, the Panthers earned a berth in the team preliminary substate round against Osceola Clarke by scoring 12 points. Besides Taylor reaching the finals, the doubles teams of Chantz Davidson-Triston Davidson and Ryan Kucera-Tyler Waddingham contributed to the scoring.
At that preliminary dual, Clarke won 5-1 with Taylor notching the only victory in his singles match.
The Creston/O-M boys scored 10 points to finish seventh in the Hawkeye 10 tennis tournament. Kuemper Catholic edged Lewis Central for first place, 26-23. Taylor was third in singles and Chantz Davidson went 4-1 in taking fifth place.
“We had kids jump eight or 10 spots this year and that’s what happens when you graduate eight seniors,” Cooper said. “It’s a learning curve for them to go through that process. Next year, we have five or six guys coming back and a class of guys behind them. We’re hoping for a squad of 10 or 12 guys next year.
Senior Audrey Fyock and sophomore Jenna Taylor gained what is believed to be Creston’s first-ever girls doubles victory in state tennis when they topped Ryan Petlevich and Hanna Schoning of Spirit Lake Park-Okoboji, 6-2, 6-3 at the University of Iowa Tennis Center in Iowa City.
It was the first state competition produced from Creston/O-M girls tennis since Amanda Clark in singles in 2000. Creston’s doubles tennis history included participation by Kelly Reed and Janelle Johnson in 1980 and 1981, and Becci Kouri with Janelle Holm in 1983.
The Panthers nearly made it a clean sweep in doubles competition at the Class 1A regional tournament in Boone.
Besides the regional championship by Taylor and Fyock, the team of Alli Thomsen and Angela Sorensen came very close to reaching the finals. The Panther sophomores knocked off the No. 2-seeded senior duo of Cassidy Bierbrodt and Tracy Morgan, and met the Ballard team of Meredith Ossian and Olivia Astarita in the semifinals.
Thomsen and Sorensen split the first two sets. They were then up 5-4 and serving for the win in set three before Ossian and Astarita rallied to take three straight games for the 7-5 victory. Playing several close matches, Thomsen and Sorensen played a total of 114 games that day.
Taylor and Fyock lost only one set in the regional tournament.
Creston/O-M also showed signs of a developing girls team. Led by two runner-up finishes, the Panthers took third lace in the Hawkeye 10 tournament with 18 points. Red Oak won its 15th straight championship with 29 points. Clarinda was second with 21.
Taking second for the Panthers were Taylor in No. 2 singles and the No. 2 doubles team of Thomsen and Sorensen. Fyock was fifth in a rugged No. 1 singles field. The No. 1 doubles team of Caitlin McIlravy and Ashley Harris went 1-2 for the day.
Cooper was encouraged after that finish.
“By tennis standards we are still a young team with four sophomores, a junior and one senior in our top six,” Cooper said. “They took third place in a quality tournament.”
In regional team competition at Ballard of Huxley, the Panthers fell 5-0 to Ballard, but the competition was much closer than that score would indicate.
When the meet was clinched with Ballard’s fifth singles victory, McIlravy was leading her match 6-3, 5-3. Taylor and Thomsen were both defeated in super tiebreaker sets — 11-9 and 10-8, respectively — after splitting the first two sets with their opponents.
“We just about got it to 3-3 in singles,” assistant coach Amanda Plymale said.
Ballard went on to defeat Osceola Clarke 5-1 to advance to the regional finals.
Cooper sees his team with the capability of doing what Ballard did this year.
“This year for our girls team, it was an exceptional year,” Cooper said. “Everywhere we went, people were impressed with the improvement of our girls squad, compared to where we have been. It’s off the charts for next year for the girls team in regards to what they could accomplish. I can’t wait for next year.”
(Number of letters)
Seniors — Garret Taylor (3), Chantz Davidson (1).
Juniors — Tyler Waddingham (1).
Sophomores — Ryan Kucera (1), Seth Maitlen (1).
Freshmen — Triston Davidson (1).
Seniors — Audrey Fyock (4).
Juniors — Ashley Harris (3).
Sophomores — Sydney Dunphy (1), Caitlin McIlravy (2), Angela Sorensen (1), Jenna Taylor (2), Alli Thomsen (2).
Participation awards — Sam Eagan, Macy Evans, Erin Hanson, Allison Norton, Morgan Shawler, Leah Stow, Ann Waigand, Mattie Wheeler, Cassandra Anderson.