It’s rare to see athletes stay together after high school.
Some end their careers at graduation, others move on to play in the different ranks of the collegiate or junior collegiate level.
With four of the five graduated varsity tennis players from Great Bend getting to keep the team together as they’re set to play for Barton Community College, it’s something special.
Nick Moyers, Austin Jacobs, Chase Buntain and Adam Neeland have been playing together since middle school, and they’re not through yet.
“(I thought about) how fortunate I was to continue my career to the next level and not end in high school,” Jacobs said of when he signed to play for the Cougars. “Not only am I going to be playing next year, but I get to play with some of my best friends.
“I’ve known Adam and Chase my whole life, and I met Nick in eighth grade. We’ve been playing together ever since.”
The quartet was part of a Panthers squad that qualified a program-record five players for the Class 5A state tournament under head coach Shannon Schartz.
Schartz will be coaching the middle school program this spring along with the Lady Panthers this fall.
Jacobs and Buntain lost to the eventual state champions in a semifinal match of the doubles competition.
Neeland joined Grant Harris at state, falling to the other Great Bend duo during a doubles quarterfinal match.
Moyers went 28-8 on the season, getting knocked out of the running in Day 1 of the state tournament single competition.
The Panthers finished fourth overall at the state tourney.
“We all decided at the beginning of the school year (our senior year),” Moyers said. “We each decided at the same time. We’re all glad we get to keep playing.”
They have kept practicing throughout the summer both in Ellinwood and Great Bend.
“We try to get together at least twice a week,” Jacobs said. “I try to get out to Ellinwood to play with (Barton head coach Lyle Stickney), but sometimes I can’t because of work.
“There’s going to be a foreign student from Spain and another from Brazil coming in soon, and when school starts, that’s when the real practices start.”
The rest of the players echoed Jacobs’ sentiment, looking forward to getting the season started.
“I wanted be a collegiate athlete my whole life,” Neeland said. “I played all sorts of different sports. I didn’t know which one would end up working out.
“I’ve played tennis since I was four or five, but I didn’t really take it seriously until high school. Now, I’m excited to fulfill my lifelong dream.”
Buntain said he was surprised when he found out he’d have a chance to play at the next level.
“It was pretty cool,” Buntain said. “I couldn’t believe that they asked me to play for them. I didn’t really expect to play anywhere (after high school).
“It was around my junior year when we started playing over at Ellinwood with Lyle and the high school. It helped us go to Barton.”
Stickney said he was happy to get local talent for the Cougars.
“It is a community college, and it is rewarding to be able to get local kids while remaining competitive,” Stickney said. “With (returning sophomore) Jeret Johnson from Larned, five of the nine players will be from the area. We have some good coaches around here who have been coaching for a long time like Shannon Schartz.
“I think it’s a real credit to the area to have coaches who are so dedicated to the sport, and I think that these kids have really picked up on that.”