EMPORIA — In a twist of events, where the upstart Great Bend High School’s doubles teams became the talk of the Class 5A state tennis tournament’s opening round, the record-setting Panthers knocked down more barriers in a season already full of milestones.
A doubles quarterfinal featured none other than Great Bend vs. Great Bend for a right to advance to Saturday’s 9 a.m. semifinal play at the Emporia High School courts, where the Panthers’ firestorm of success took a foothold on Friday.
In a dizzying, no-holds-barred estimated 1½-hour marathon, Austin Jacobs and Chase Buntain outlasted teammates Grant Harris and Adam Neeland, 7-6 (6), 7-5, to advance to the semis.
“It wasn’t hard for me at all,” Great Bend head coach Shannon Schartz said. “I enjoyed it and I loved seeing them play in the quarters. They played great, and there’s no stress on the coach at all when it’s Great Bend vs. Great Bend, so we know that Great Bend is going to win.
“Each team had to bring their ‘A’ game, and they did. We were hoping to get in the top-10 and now we have one in the top-4. We have some possibilities and both teams had to play real pressure tiebreakers and anything can happen. They responded well under pressure.”
In singles play, Nick Moyers unexpectedly made an early exit after finishing 1-2, falling to a pair of top-rated opponents, including No. 2 overall seed Austin Davids of Topeka West and Macen Vargas of Arkansas City, 9-2.
“It would have been a perfect day, if we would have gotten Nick to the second day,” Schartz said. “It wasn’t meant to be and Nick played at 100 percent and sometimes you get beat by a better opponent.”
After drawing a first-round bye, Moyers lost to Davids, 6-3, 6-1.
“Nick destroyed a kid from St. James (blanking Nick Urban 9-0),” Schartz said.
Moyers had a tough order on the state’s biggest stage.
“I came into state hoping to do well and I think like I played pretty well,” Moyers said. “I had to play some pretty tough competition, though, and I tried my hardest and it didn’t work out today.”
Being teammates, the aforementioned doubles teams hadn’t met in actual competition before Friday. In practices, Harris said he and Neeland had been a couple steps behind their teammates.
“But we’re always competitive,” Harris added. “I’m glad we got to play each other because now we’re guaranteed at least a fourth-place finish with them.
“It was definitely a different experience because you usually think of whoever you’re playing as the enemy, but when you’re playing your teammates, you can’t really measure them as that, but you also have to play well.”
Naturally, the team bragging rights go to Jacobs and Buntain, although there’s no jealously within the close-knit group, with Moyers serving as the ringleader — and his dad, Randy Moyers, played an integral role in the team’s fortunes by building a tennis court in his backyard, where the players have honed their skills in the offseason.
“It was really fun playing against our own team, but we just wanted to win it more than they did because we’ve been working so hard,” Buntain said with a grin. “It was like playing any other team out there.”
Jacobs had to tell Buntain to give their teammates the silent treatment.
“Chase was saying something to one of the other players when we first got out there and I said, ‘Hey, Chase, no more talking for the rest of the match,’ ” Jacobs said.
Neeland and Harris advanced to play their teammates by beating Matt Bierbaum and Connor Hosty of St. James Academy, 6-4, 6-7 (0), 11-9, while Buntain and Jacobs moved on by beating Matt Zemanick and Logan Beavis of Bishop Carroll, 7-6 (5), 6-1.
Buntin and Jacobs beat Marrcus Pyles and Jeremy Seeley of Topeka West in their first match, 6-1, 6-2, while Neeland and Jacobs beat Tristan Jones and Stephen Le of Andover Central, 6-2, 6-3.
“We played really good against St. James Academy,” Neeland said. “We’ve played (against Jacobs and Buntain) all year in practices and never been that close.
“I guess we were just playing our best today, and they weren’t completely on their game, but they still had enough to beat us.”
The Panthers were coming off a third-place team finish from a regional in Salina last week. The two-time defending Western Athletic Conference champions were led by Moyers, the WAC Player of the Year, one year after Harris captured the honor as a freshman in 2012.
Check out Sunday's Tribune and our website for additional coverage on the state tourney.