Iola’s Fawson earns state tennis berth

A dramatic come-from-behind victory in her opening match of the day keyed a sixth-place finish for Iola's Keira Fawson at Saturday's Class 4A Regional Tennis Tournament. With the top-six finish, Fawson advances to the state tennis tournament, which starts Friday in Winfield.


October 11, 2021 - 10:00 AM

Iola High sophomore Keira Fawson poses with her sixth-place medal Saturday. The top-six finish at regionals secured a berth in the Class 4A State Tennis Tournament, which opens Friday in Winfield. Photo by Chris Belknap

INDEPENDENCE — Keira Fawson’s hopes for a state bid nearly ended as soon as they started.

The Iola High sophomore rallied from a 4-1 deficit in a third-set tiebreaker against Ellie Valentine-Florence of Parsons in the opening round of Saturday’s Class 4A Regional Tournament.

A loss would have ended Fawson’s season.

But she dug down and forged a 6-6 tie, as the pair traded volley shots and momentum swings on a  regular basis.

It was Fawson who earned the last laugh, scoring the last two points in a 6-4, 0-6 and 11-9 victory.

Fawson fell in her next match to eventual runner-up Callie Schlerholtz of Independence, but she again rallied to dispatch Sydney Schibi of Parsons, 7-6 and 6-2. 

The victory assured Fawson of at least sixth-place in the singles tournament, and thus a bid to the Class 4A State Tournament, which opens Friday in Winfield.

Iola head coach Chris Belknap said a timeout late in the third set helped settle Fawson’s nerves.

“I just asked her what she wanted to do,” Belknap said. “She wanted to go to state.”

With the state bid assured, the seventh-seeded Fawson — who entered regionals with a 15-5 record — had one final match of the day, where she fell in straight sets, 6-0 and 6-0, to Aimee Maxton of Chanute in the fifth-place match.

FAWSON was the only IHS entry to advance to state.

Fellow singles player Miah Shelby, seeded ninth, fell in the first round to Chanute’s Rylee Smith, 6-2 and 6-4.

Iola’s doubles teams of Genevive Ward and Kennedy Maier lost in their opener to Tyra Bogle and Grace Thompson of Chanute, 6-0 and 6-0. Iola’s Rebekah Coltrane and Charlie Peters also fell in straight sets, 6-0 and 6-0 to Lena Aguilar and Hannah Langen of Chanute.

The action unfolded on an unusually warm and blustery October afternoon, with temperatures soaring above 90 and wind gusts coming in from every direction.

“The wind was a big factor, especially with Miah,” Belknap noted. “A lot of her shots were just going long. Then at different points, the wind would be in their faces, and then by the afternoon, it was coming in from the side.”

Belknap said the cards weren’t in Shelby’s favor as she battled the wind.

“She worked really well last week,” Belknap said. “She was determined and optimistic. But she just wasn’t able to pull off the shots. Playing singles tennis is very ‘head gamey’ sometimes. It can get into your head when shots aren’t falling and you start to compensate. I think a little of that got to her.”

Nevertheless, Shelby had a season to be proud of. After starring as a doubles player with her older sister, this was Shelby’s first year as a singles player, with the pair often alternating  in the No. 1 and No. 2 slots.

“By the end of the day, we all were feeling a little better about it,” Belknap said.

Both doubles teams had newcomers to the sport.

Coltrane, in just her second year of tennis, teamed up with Peters, a foreign exchange student new to the sport — or all sports, in fact. (Prior to this year, she had done cheerleading, but no competitive athletics.)

Likewise, Maier hadn’t picked up a racket before this fall, while Ward was in her third year.