Parkway West senior Willliam Tong and sophomore Kenji Yanaba are just the second doubles team ever to win a state tennis championship for the Longhorns.
The last one was in 1989.
“That one was a long time ago,” Longhorns coach Jason Townsend said.
That state doubles drought is over.
Tong and Yanaba defeated Rockhurst’s Mikey Michaelis and Justin Nogalski 6-1, 6-2 at the Cooper Tennis Complex in Springfield to claim the Class 2 championship.
“I don’t know if it ever sunk in for them that day,” Townsend said. “They were all smiles and felt very rewarded, but it was kind of surreal. We knew they could do it, but when it actually happens, it just doesn’t seem true. They were kind of in dreamland.”
Townsend put them together this season. With the district loaded with so many talented singles players, it made sense to create a double duo that was outstanding.
“Last year we had two very good freshmen players in Kenji and Dillon Youngberg. There were an excellent doubles team for us,” Townsend said. “However, knowing that Carson (Haskins, Parkway South’s No. 1 singles player) and Jacob (Kauppila, Marquette’s No. 1 singles player) would be tough to beat in singles, we groomed our best two players as a doubles team to hopefully make a run.”
From there, Tong and Yanaba took care of business.
They won the District 6 title with a 6-1, 6-1 over Lafayette’s Carson Krone and Robert Berilla.
“Carson and Ian are a great team,” Townsend said. “To their credit, they had to play a grueling semifinal against my No. 2 team and had very little left for the final. We did beat them three times, but they play hard and always make us earn it. I have a great deal of respect for how they play.”
The Longhorns’ tandem defeated CBC’s Daniel Charles Wolf and Brian Louis Etling 6-0, 6-2 to win Sectional 3 and earn a berth in the state tournament.
“We played very well at sectional. CBC really didn’t have a chance,” Townsend said. “They are down this year and that district was a little weak. We dominated them from the start. Both Will and Kenji had a tough serve and attacked the net very well.”
The victory marked an important milestone in Townsend’s coaching career.
“This was the first time I had a boys team qualify past sectional,” Townsend said.
The Longhorns had a real battle in their first match at state. The played Park Hill South’s Joshua Robgaska and James De Nassab. Tong and Yanaba prevailed 5-7, 6-2, 10-7.
“I want to point out that we almost lost our opening round match,” Townsend said. “The duo from Park Hill South was very good. It was a tough draw to start out with. I had heard they took (defending state champions Jack Evans and Joseph O’Connor to a tie-break in the regular season. They were tough. They took the first set and only set off of us in the tournament.
“They are great kids. They ended up taking eight place, but they should have been in the top four. We had to go to a tie break to get past them. Close call. After that, we were on a mission.”
In the semifinals, Tong and Yanaba met Rockhurst’s Evans and O’Connor. They had lost 8-6 to them in state team tournament in which Rockhurst again won.
“We were right with them and showed that we could play with them,” Townsend said. “I think it stayed all even to 4-4, then they got a break and held the rest of the way. When we faced them in the individual tournament we knew what to expect. I really stressed that we get off to a good start.”
This time, the results was different. Parkway West’s duo won 7-5, 7-6 (7-4).
“We got up in the first set 3-0. I then told my guys the counterpunch was coming and to be ready,” Townsend said. “Rockhurst fought back and we held on 7-5. In the second set they got the lead and had us down 5-4 and 6-5, but we broke to push a tie-break and took the early lead there and never let go.
“The final was the most exciting match for me as a coach,” Townsend said. “I had to skip lunch, my stomach was in knots. They really did believe they could win, that was a huge factor.”
The match win showed what Tong and Yanaba could do. They got down; they got tested. Still, they found a way to win.
“In the first round Will was on and Kenji was a little off,” Townsend said. “In the second round Kenji was on fire with his return of serve. In the semifinal they were both on and just unstoppable. When they start to click they really are the best doubles team in the state.”
That win send them into the final match against Michaelis and Nogalski.
“Our half of the draw was much tougher,” Townsend said. “The other Rockhurst doubles team had a fairly easy path to the finals. They were solid, but very overmatched by my top two players. I worried we would have a let down but that did not happen. They took care of business, made adjustments and finished.”
Looking back, Townsend said he is glad the move was made to put them together. It made for a spring no one associated with the program will ever forget.
“They are a special duo,” Townsend said. “William is a team leader with all the mental and physical tools. Kenji is young and very laid back, but is a quote freak unquote on the court. He can do things that amaze me.
“They only lost one match this year and that was to Carson at Parkway South and his partner. He kind of took over the match by himself and we lost in a tiebreak. I have never had a pair like them.”
Tong is a senior so he has graduated. Yanaba will be back to play.
Townsend said losing Tong is difficult. However, he is happy to have Yanaba back.
“I think Kenji has a lot of great tennis ahead of him in singles and doubles. As a No., 2 this year, he was undefeated. I will miss Will in more ways than I can tell you. He is special.”