Mustang duo punches ticket to state

Iola High's Brody Thompson and Ethan Riebel capped a thrilling day of tennis Friday by earning a berth in the upcoming Class 4A State Tournament. But in order to do so, they had to win a marathon, 2 1/2-hour match just to get out of the first round of regionals.

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May 6, 2024 - 3:15 PM

Iola High's Ethan Riebel, left, and Brody Thompson celebrate after winning a point Friday at the Class 4A Regional Tennis Tournament in Chanute. Photo by Richard Luken / Iola Register

CHANUTE — It started as a tennis match.

But after 2½  glorious hours of building tension, trading volleys and finally pulling out a heart-pounding three-set classic over Fort Scott’s Malachi Larson and Mykael Lewis, Iola High’s doubles team of Brody Thompson and Ethan Riebel had delivered a tennis court classic for the ages.

And they were just getting started.

The victory, in the opening round of the Class 4A Regional Tournament, was pivotal because it meant Riebel and Thompson were still alive for a potential state berth even after they dropped their next match in straight sets to Chanute’s Anthony Bendt and Luke Becknell. They took full advantage, with victories in their final matches — straight set wins over Baldwin’s Conner Murry and Dylan Williams and then Raj Gugnani and Landon McDaniel of Fort Scott — to punch their ticket to the upcoming state tournament

“It was a pretty fantastic finish,” Mustang head coach Chris Belknap said. 

And While Riebel and Thompson were the only Iola participants to qualify for state, and were the only Mustangs to pull out a win of any sort at regionals, it belied the quality of tennis the entire IHS team exhibited, head coach Chris Belknap said.

Iola’s other doubles team of Konner Larney and Donovan Nee also went to a third-set tiebreaker, but eventually fell to Ottawa’s Trey Kingsolver and Aiden Roberts, 6-4, 6-7 (5) and 10-4.

Iola’s Payton Kern gave a charge in his singles match against Chanute’s Blaine Smoot, with several extended rallies before bowing out, 6-3 and 6-2.

The Mustangs’ Trapper Boren, also in singles play, dropped a 6-0, 6-0 match to Chanute’s Noah Vogel.

“Everybody played their best tennis of the year at regionals,” Belknap said. “It was good to watch. Unfortunately, it’s a single elimination tournament in the first round with no margin of error at all.”

SPEAKING of that first round, Thompson and Riebel got an early service break and held that advantage through the duration of the first set against Lewis and Larson, winning 6-4.

But the Fort Scott duo, who also had lost against Riebel and Thompson the first time they played in early April, didn’t go away quietly. 

They stayed nip and tuck throughout the second set, finally winning a 7-6 tiebreaker.

Every point was a battle, Belknap said. “It seemed like everything went to tiebreakers.”

In regionals tennis, a third-set tiebreaker is a simple race to 10 points, and the winning team must win by at least two.

As could be expected, the tiebreaker went back and forth, with neither team able to take advantage.

“I have a finger missing from all the nail biting,” Belknap joked. “Some lady even offered me her hand to chew on.”

That was until Riebel came up to serve with the score deadlocked at 9-9.

Riebel served consecutive aces, giving Iola the final two points to win the marathon match.

The extended play drew the attention of others at the Chanute High School tennis area, Belknap said. “Even their other opponents started watching.”

The elation of the hard-fought victory didn’t last long. Riebel and Thompson took a 15-minute break or so before returning to the court to face Becknell and Wendt. The Chanute duo cruised to straight-set victory, 6-4 and 6-0.

The loss set up the tennis version of high school wrestling’s “blood round,” where a victory meant qualifying for state, and a loss meant going home for the year.

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