Tennis is a lonely sport. A player is alone on the court, with only the racquet, ball, and the white lines for company. Although coaches and teammates cheer and offer support from the sidelines, there’s nobody blocking for you, nobody waiting to grab a rebound if you miss the shot, nobody with a clipboard or a playcall. It’s just you pitting yourself against an opponent, and sometimes, it takes more than just talent to win a match.
Players often talking about toughing out a match, winning just on guts alone, and yesterday, Maria Linares did just that. Down 2-5 in the first set, she rallied to force a tiebreak and then fought back from set-point down to take the set 9-7 in the tiebreak. Then, in the third set, she had to rally from 2-5 down again, and this time, with very little left left in the tank, Linares took a brief medical timeout, forced another tiebreak and took the match in a thriller 8-6.
That victory, the final match of the day, sealed a fabulous come-from-behind 4-3 victory for Kansas State against Kentucky. The Wildcats now advance to the second round of the NCAA Tournament, a feat the team last accomplished in 2003 at the program’s most recent appearance in the post-season.
Linares’ victory was the decider and it came just moments after Ines Mesquita also won a tough three-set match at No. 6 singles that set up Linares’ match as the clincher. Mesquita had barely left the court when she was engulfed in the celebration following Linares’ win. Earlier in the day, trailing 3-1 in the contest against Kentucky, Margot Decker also had a three-set win to put the Wildcats on the comeback trail, and Decker’s win seems to have sparked the rest of the team.
Afterwards, head coach Danielle Steinberg talked about heart and about the importance of treating every match like a gift.
Before this match, really what we said is, ‘This is a gift for us. This is just another opportunity for us to play together as a team, this group, and if this means this is the last time that we’re together, then we’re going to give it everything we have for this group. Now we have another chance, another gift. I think that really sunk with this group, knowing that this could be the last time.
Let’s hope it’s not. Go RacketCats!
Perhaps inspired by the tennis team, Kansas State baseball very nearly completed an impossible comeback of its own. The BatCats scored five runs in the bottom of the ninth against Kansas in the Sunflower Showdown opener to even the score at 8-8 and force the game into extra innings. But a solo homer by the Jayhawks in the 10th inning ended the game with a 9-8 loss for Kansas State.
The game was, in many ways, a microcosm of the season and what it might have been if the chips had fallen a different way. Faced with no outs, bases loaded, and needing just one run to seal the win, the BatCats could not find a way out. This was Kansas State’s seventh consecutive loss, and the team is now mathematically eliminated from the Big 12 tournament.
At the Big 12 Outdoor Track Championships, things went about as well as they could have for both the men’s and women’s teams. The women are currently leading the standings, while the men are in second place.
The big news yesterday was Janee’ Kassanavoid winning her second consecutive Big 12 outdoor title in the hammer throw. She set a new school and meet record in the process and also improved on her own personal best mark.
The championships continue today with more action from Waco, beginning with the remaining events in the heptathlon and decathlon. Ariel Okorie and Aaron Booth are both currently in second place in their respective multi events and could end up on the winner’s podium.
Speaking of Big 12 champions, Kansas State already has one in Jeremy Gandon, who was Big 12 co-champion earlier this spring and automatically qualified for the NCAA regional play as a result. He’ll be in California for the 2018 Stockton Regional from Monday to Wednesday, competing as an individual.