Throughout her high school career, Hayden senior Brooklyn Hunter has been the hunted, with a host of players trying to knock the Wildcat star off her perch as Class 4A’s premier singles player.
But Hunter found a way to fight off each and every challenger, completing that quest with a 6-3, 6-1 victory over Wichita Collegiate senior Lauren Conrad on Monday at Kossover Tennis Center to become the first 4A player and only the third all-time in any class to win four straight state singles championships.
And although there was joy in her accomplishment, Hunter admitted that relief was her top emotion of the day after finishing off a 20-1 season and a 78-2 career.
“Probably about 80 percent of it is relief," said Hunter, who led Hayden to a second-place team finish. “I’m glad I don’t have to worry about this anymore."
After finishing off title No. 4, the Hayden three-sport standout admitted she felt “so much" pressure on her as she took aim on 4A history.
“It’s definitely the most pressure that I’ve ever felt, and every year it was more," she said. “I talked to my family a lot obviously, and also I talked to Christy (Sheetz, Hayden’s coach) and they just gave me really good things to think about, knowing that it’s not the end of the world if things don’t go my way, but that I had a good shot at (a fourth title) and I could do it.
“They just told me to believe in myself and it worked."
Sheetz said he has great admiration for how Hunter handled everything thrown at her throughout her career.
“It certainly takes a special kid," Sheetz said. “Not everybody can do that. I can barely handle the pressure and it doesn’t have anything to do with me really.
“I certainly feel the anxiety that she feels and I don’t know how she can channel that into such energy and turn it into winning points, but she does it."
With her fourth championship, Brooklyn equaled the achievement of older brother Tommy, who won four 4A boys singles titles from 2013-16.
After rolling to a 6-1, 6-2 win over Circle sophomore Annabelle Adams in the semifinals, Hunter got herself in a spot of trouble in the championship match against Conrad, falling behind 2-0 as Conrad dominated the first two games.
Hunter said she was “a little bit" concerned at that point, but she registered four straight service winners to get things going.
“I knew it was the beginning of the match and I had a lot of time and that was just two games," Hunter said.
On several occasions, Hunter also took short breaks at the back of the court in an effort to help keep herself composed.
“I was talking to myself," she said with a laugh. “I had to keep myself motivated and focused and know not to give up even though I was down at first."
Conrad eventually went up 3-1, but Hunter won five straight games to close out the set and won 11 of her final 12 games on the day.
Not only did Hunter pick up confidence as the match went on, but took control after changing tempo.
“It was more about changing my game, because I could tell she just liked to hit hard back and forth, so once I changed it up a little bit I noticed that worked really well, so I kept doing it," Hunter said.
Hayden’s doubles teams of sophomores Allyson Meier and Jenny Voegeli and seniors Sara Comstock and Julia Hammes also turned in strong state tournaments, finishing seventh and eighth to help the Wildcats finish second in the team race to Wichita Collegiate, which won its 10th straight state title (four straight in 4A).
Meier and Voegeli took a 9-2 decision over their teammates, Comstock and Hammes, in the seventh-place match.
“I’m so incredibly proud of both teams," Sheetz said.
Collegiate seniors Hannah Geoffroy and Sydney Lair won the doubles championship with a 7-5, 6-1 win over Wellington junior Kylie Aufdengarten and sophomore Rylee Rusk, while the Spartans also got a fifth-place doubles finish from juniors Sallie Lair and Steph Gentile and a ninth-place showing in singles from senior Riley Ruffin, in addition to Conrad’s runner-up singles finish.
“It never gets old," Collegiate coach Dave Hawley said of the Spartans' title. “The critical thing about this group right here is that five of these kids have been part of the last three (championships). This year, we’ve had kids that pushed them and they’ve had to get better from within.
“This is the best a team of mine has played from top to bottom at state in years, because everybody has contributed."
Marysville senior Shelby Downard finished fourth in singles, dropping a 6-2, 6-1 decision to Adams in the third-place match.
Abilene senior Kylie Coup and junior Shiann Olberding finished fourth in doubles, dropping a 6-2, 6-1 decision to Independence senior Addison Julian and junior Kaydn King. Wamego junior Caitlin Donahue and senior Kylee Jones finished 10th in doubles, dropping a 9-2 decision to Wellington senior Jacelyn Buck and sophomore Calli Hatfield in the ninth-place match.
Wichita Collegiate 49, Hayden 33, Wellington 21, Independence 21, Buhler 20, Circle 15, Abilene 14, Smoky Valley 13, Marysville 12, Miege 11, Labette County 10, Winfield 10, Parsons 8, Wamego 6, El Dorado 1
Semifinals — Hunter, Hayden, def. Adams, Circle, 6-1, 6-2; Conrad, Collegiate, def. Downard, Marysville, 6-1, 6-3.
Championship — Hunter, Hayden, def. Conrad, Collegiate, 6-3, 6-1
Third — Adams, Circle, def. Downard, Marysville, 6-2, 6-1
Fifth — Frederick, Buhler, def. Holmes, Miege, 9-2
Seventh — Haxton, Smoky Valley, def. Marquez, Independence, 9-1
Ninth — Ruffin, Collegiate, def. Teufel, Buhler, 9-3
11th — Nihart, Winfield, def. Friess, Parsons, 9-6
Semifinals — Geoffroy/Lair, Collegiate, def. Julian/King, Independence, 6-3, 6-1; Aufendgarten/Rusk, Wellington, def. Coup/Olberding, Abilene, 6-7 (3-7), 6-4, 6-4
Championship — Geoffroy/Lair, Collegiate, def. Aufendgarten/Rusk, Wellington, 7-5, 6-1
Third — Julian/King, Independence, def. Coup/Olberding, Abilene
Fifth — Lair/Gentile, Collegiate, def. Baughman/Burleigh, Labette County, 9-6
Seventh — Meier/Voegeli, Hayden. def. Comstock/Hammes, Hayden, 9-2
Ninth — Buck/Hatfield, Wellington, def. Donohue/Jones, Wamego, 9-2
11th — Bounvongxay/Priest, Winfield, def. Bowles/Clark, Smoky Valley, 9-3