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Worth the wait: KC Christian’s Bartels caps perfect season with second straight Class 3-2-1A singles title

Perfection had to wait a little longer than perhaps Caleb Bartels expected Saturday at the Class 3-2-1A State Tennis Championships.
 
After quickly disposing of Cair Paravel’s Drew Fay 6-0, 6-1 in their singles semifinals to start Saturday’s action at Harmon Park Tennis Complex in Prairie Village, the Kansas City Christian senior had a lengthy break before returning to the court for his championship match.
 
The cause for the delay? A marathon match in the other semifinal between Central Plains’ Peyton Ryan and Wichita Collegiate’s Charlie Gentile that lasted more than two hours before Ryan pulled out a three-set victory to earn a rematch with Bartels in the finals for the second straight year.
 
“I feel like it can be a disadvantage when you’re sitting for so long and your body isn’t doing any of that exercise – when you have a long match and play shortly after it, your body is in rhythm,” Bartels said. “But also, it’s nice to have that rest. It can go both ways.”
 
Once the finals rematch was set, Ryan did his best to prolong his quest for perfection and deny Bartels’ his. Riding the adrenaline of his semifinal win, Ryan gave Bartels his toughest match of the season but didn’t have enough to turn the tables on his rival.
 
After beating Ryan 6-1, 6-2 for the state title a year ago, Bartels fought off Ryan’s upset bid, taking a 6-1, 6-3 victory. That capped a 33-0 season for the Panther standout while Ryan finished his season 31-1.
 
“That was definitely my toughest match of the season,” Bartels said. “We had a lot of long rallies and physical points. We both made each other work. … He’s a great competitor and he’s going to fight to the very end. He played a great match and I was ready for whatever was going to come.”
 

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Kansas City Christian’s Caleb Bartels (left) shakes hands with Central Plains’ Peyton Ryan after beating him in the Class 3-2-1A state singles finals for the second straight year.

 
Likewise, Ryan was ready to give Bartels everything he had after outlasting Gentile for the second time this season, pulling out a 6-3, 1-6, 6-2 win after beating the Collegiate sophomore 8-6 earlier this season.
 
“I kind of anticipating a three-setter and had my mind ready for that,” Ryan said. “I was hoping it would be two, in my favor, but I was ready for it. It definitely wore me down a little, but I had to be ready. It was a state championship match, there’s no way you’re not ready for it.”
 
Ryan took an early game in the opening set before Bartels took control and rolled to the 6-1 victory. That’s been the routine for Bartels this season as he posted 19 pro-set wins in which he didn’t lose a game and another five where he lost only one. In his six postseason matches leading up the finals, he’d only lost three combined games.
 
Things seemed headed that direction when Bartels got a service break in the second set to take a 4-1 lead. Once again, however, Ryan refused to go quietly and responded with a service break of his own as well as a service hold to close the deficit to 4-3.
 
In a rare tight set, Bartels didn’t get flustered. Instead, he responded like the champion he is, breaking Ryan and then holding serve for his second straight singles title.
 
“I know he’s a great competitor and it was going to be a tough match,” Bartels said. “I just had to stay focused and positive when he got those games. I just kept sticking with my game plan and kept fighting. Being patient, keeping it deep and moving him side to side. I was just trying to be aggressive when I could and not play recklessly.”
 
“I knew I was the underdog going in,” Ryan said. “So it was ‘Play loose and play free, go for your shots because you’re not going to get many of them.’ I played smart and when I had a shot I took it. I executed as well as I could. He’s just really good.”
 
The path to his second straight state championship was a little different than a year ago. For starters, Bartels went undefeated as a senior after going 33-3 last year as a junior.
 
Last year’s title also came with serious team implications as well as KC Christian dethroned Wichita Collegiate’s three-year reign atop Class 3-2-1A. This year, however, Bartels was one of only three Panthers on the team and the lone state qualifier.
 
Despite not having the likes of former teammates James Vander Ark – with whom Bartels won a doubles state championship in 2022 – and Ian Garis, who finished fourth at state in singles last year, Bartels was able to stay in top form and run the table in a season that included wins over Class 5A state singles champion Sanjay Rajkumar of Blue Valley Southwest and 5A runner-up Evan Goates of Maize South, among others.
 
“It wasn’t that hard to stay sharp,” Bartels said. “My teammates were great and I got to work with Coach (Chris) McNeill a lot.”
 
His high school career complete – he also took third in singles at state as a freshman before teaming with Vander Ark for the doubles title as a sophomore – Bartels will take his talents to Calvin University, a Division III college in Grand Rapids, Mich.
 
“It just felt like the perfect school for me with the academics, the tennis and a great environment,” he said. “I’m excited for what’s next.”
 

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Central Plains’ Peyton Ryan saw his bid for an undefeated season and first state title fall short, but still finished as state runner-up for the third straight season.

 
Despite falling short of getting his first state title, Ryan could hardly be disappointed. And not just with his senior season where he went 31-1, but also his career that saw Ryan fashion an overall record of 137-4 – all four of his losses coming at the Class 3-2-1A state tournament to the eventual state champions (Rossville’s Alex Sherer in 2021 in a fifth-place showing, Wichita Collegiate’s Nick Grabon in the 2022 finals and Bartels in the finals last year and this year).
 
“I’m very satisfied and very happy with how I did,” Ryan said. “I may have lost, but I still played really well. All four people I lost to in my career were honestly just better than me and I gave it my all against them.”
 

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Wichita Collegiate’s Carter Drumright (left) celebrates with his younger brother Maddox after the duo won the Class 3-2-1A state doubles championship.

 
DRUMRIGHT BROTHERS LEAD THE WAY AS COLLEGIATE RETURNS TO 3-2-1A PINNACLE
 
Carter Drumright has a confession.
 
“I don’t really like singles,” the Wichita Collegiate junior said. “I’m not a singles guy. I’m a team sport guy.”
 
Drumright’s past results somewhat contradict his sentiments. Playing singles each of the last two seasons for Collegiate, Drumright certainly played the role well. He finished third at the Class 3-2-1A state meet as a freshman in 2022 and then took fifth place last year as a sophomore.
 
Then again, Saturday’s results also validate Drumright’s sentiment. The arrival of freshman brother Maddox gave Carter the ideal partner to give things a go in doubles play and after a somewhat rocky start to the season, the Spartan duo showed they were indeed the perfect match.
 
Bringing an 18-match winning streak into the state tournament, the Drumrights were nothing short of dominating in capturing the Class 3-2-1A state doubles championship. The duo dropped only three games in their first three matches of the tourney, two coming in Saturday’s 6-2, 6-0 semifinal win over Marysville’s Titus Wassom and Blake Spicer, and then completed their run to the title with a convincing 6-1, 6-1 win over Wichita Classical’s Charlie Graham and Isaac Yourdon.
 
“We hadn’t played tennis in a year so our expectations weren’t really high coming into the season,” Carter said. “But I was really excited and thought there was a possibility we could be all right, but nothing like this.”
 
The Drumrights path to becoming state tennis champions was hardly a conventional one. For starters, neither of the brothers are your typical tennis junkies, having played the game since they were old enough to pick up a racket.
 
In fact, they had never even dabbled in the sport until the family took a vacation to The Broadmoor, a destination resort in Colorado which also happens to be one of the top tennis clubs in the country. At the urging of their mother, Cameron, they spent a day on the courts and while they were hitting some balls, the club pro approached Cameron and asked who their hitting coach was.
 
When she proclaimed they had never even played the sport, he was surprised, immediately marveled at their natural ability in the sport and encouraged pursuing it. When the Drumrights returned to Wichita, Cameron managed to register her sons for a local USTA junior event, buying equipment at a local department store.
 
Even then, their attentions were still divided. The sons of former Wichita State baseball standout Greg Drumright, that sport is their true love and both double up in the spring and also play for the Wichita Collegiate baseball team.
 
“We were kind of on the ropes of what we were going to do,” Carter said. “We have to balance baseball with our tennis practice and our academics, which at Collegiate isn’t an easy thing to do. It was difficult, but we love playing with each other.”
 

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Wichita Collegiate’s Carter Drumright

 
Maddox agreed and said their dual-sport endeavors actually benefits them in both.
 
“Baseball skills, with the swing being the same, your forehand,” he said. “And then just having the quickness and having that hand-eye coordination. The ball coming in fast, especially when you’re at the net playing these guys with massive forehands, it helps a lot.”
 
Having played only sporadically together as doubles partners throughout their careers, the Drumrights got off to a good start to the season this spring, going 3-0 at the season opening home quad. But they followed that with a 2-2 showing at the Andover Central Invitational in their next outing, suffering losses to Andover’s Gentry Brown and Andrew Chan and Andover Central’s Isaac Huber and Trevor Sagehorn.
 
But since those losses, the Drumrights have been unbeatable. Their confidence got a huge boost when they claimed the doubles title at the Wichita Collegiate Tournament of Champions, avenging the previous loss to Huber and Sagehorn – who finished as Class 5A state runners-up on Saturday in Andover – with a resounding 8-2 win.
 
“Success definitely came a little quicker than I thought, especially not having picked up a racket for a year,” Maddox said. “That TOC is where it really clicked.”
 

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Wichita Collegiate’s Maddox Drumright

 
“We kind of got on a roll,” Carter said. “When we won the championship at the TOC 8-2, that’s when we thought this could happen. We realized we could do something this year.”
 
The roll never stopped, but going into Saturday’s title match with Classical’s Graham and Yourdon, the Drumrights didn’t fully know what to expect. They had met in the regional finals as well, but in that match the Drumrights took a 6-4 win in the first set but were trailing 1-0 in the second when the Saints duo had to retire with a medical issue.
 
While Graham and Yourdon had a tougher time earning a rematch in the state finals, taking a 6-2, 7-5 win over Hesston’s Asher Deutschendorf and Braiden Liechty in the semifinals, they still posed a formidable threat to the Drumrights’ winning streak.
 
Instead, the Drumrights controlled the rematch from start to finish, never giving the Saints duo a chance to get anything going.
 
“Be aggressive at the net. Good serves. First serves in. Returns in,” Maddox said. “Because they’re very good.”
 
“Yourdon has a heck of a serve, something special,” Carter said. “We had Bruno (Suiama) at Genesis, who’s a lefty, hit serves at us to work on that game. And we were able to face Marysville’s lefty (Spicer) and that helped us a lot. We really just did what we needed to do with our game, nothing special.
 
“After that first break we had, that got things going for us. We had some great hustle plays and shots down the line that were fantastic. Everything was clicking today.”
 

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Wichita Classical’s Isaac Yourdon

 

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Wichita Classical’s Charlie Graham

 
Yourdon and Graham finished with a 29-7 mark, improving one spot from a third-place finish at state a year ago.
 
“It was a little rough part at the end, but you can’t get them all,” Graham said. “At regionals we were playing a lot better. They played almost a perfect match so congrats to them for that.”
 
The finals win capped a 27-2 season and gave Carter a tennis championship to go with the baseball title he experience a year ago when the Spartans won their second straight Class 3A state baseball crown.
 
Last year, he was on the bottom of the dogpile. Saturday, he was jumping into Maddox with a celebratory chest bump.
 

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Class 3-2-1A state champion Wichita Collegiate

 
The Drumrights doubles title helped pave the way for Collegiate to return to the top of Class 3-2-1A after seeing their three-year reign ended a year ago by Kansas City Christian. The Spartans finished with 44 points, easily outdistancing runner-up Central Plains, which scored 32 points.
 
Collegiate got a third-place finish in singles from Charlie Gentile, who rebounded from a three-set marathon semifinal loss to undefeated Peyton Ryan of Central Plains to beat Cair Paravel’s Drew Fay 6-2, 6-1 in the third-place match. Omar Al-Tabbal added a fifth in singles for the Spartans, while the doubles team of Sky Fujinuma and Rahul Madhavan added a ninth-place showing.
 
First-year Spartan head coach Simon Norman said last year’s runner-up finish never really served as motivation for this year’s team.
 
“I don’t think we talked about the streak ending at all,” Norman said. “They were just a bunch of kids who wanted to do as well as they could. We weren’t talking about what happened in the past, but instead focused on what was going to happen in the future. It was never a conversation, they were just self-motivated to be as good as they can be.”
 
The pieces fell into place, albeit with tough decisions made along the way. Gentile was locked in at No. 1 singles for the bulk of the season and the Drumrights were the clear No. 1 doubles team. Al-Tabbal quickly established himself in singles, leaving Norman to figure what combination of his three seniors – Fujinuma, Madhavan and Robert Rasberry would comprise the second doubles team.
 
“That was a really, really tough choice,” Norman said. “We had three players for two spots and you make the best decision you can. What was a blast for these guys is the team chemistry was so good. They played for each other and get along so well and it’s been so much fun working with these guys. I had some pretty enjoyable seasons at (Wichita) Independent, but this has been a lot of fun.”
 
Next year could be even more so. Collegiate graduates Al-Tabbal, Fujinuma and Madhavan from its state contingent, but the Drumrights and Gentile return and Norman said an incoming freshman class boasts some state-caliber players to fill the voids.
 
Central Plains’ runner-up team showing was led by Ryan’s runner-up finish in singles. But the Oilers matched Collegiate with all four state entries earning state medals as Camden Stiles finished seventh in singles, the doubles team of Paxton and Peyton Dody took eighth and the doubles team of Aiden Metro and Nethan Cauthon finished 12th.
 
The Oilers will also be loaded next year with Ryan the lone senior on the roster.
 
Smoky Valley finished third with 22 points, two ahead of both Wichita Classical and Hesston. The Vikings were led by sixth-place finishes from Keaton Leiker in singles and the doubles team of Gabriel and Ezekiel Baker.