By Kai Raymer (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
The Central Bulldogs have this tennis and academics thing figured out.
As an international baccalaureate (IB) school, it comes with the territory.
Central won its seventh straight district championship on Thursday afternoon at Cooper Tennis Complex, defeating Lebanon 5-1 in the Class 2 District 10 title match.
“Because our kids are so academically focused and have such big, lofty goals in academics, tennis often times take a second (priority),” said Central coach Donita Cox. “That’s really our biggest challenge. And we know that.
“Tennis is important, but academics are the most important thing at Central.”
Cox said the Bulldogs were down a varsity player – No. 5 Nicholaos Wiley – on Thursday. She expects four more players unavailable for Friday’s individuals/doubles district tournament.
“We could have someone out for film, or for a chemistry project, or an IB exam,” Cox said. “It says a lot about tradition and commitment, and always striving for excellence. We have a goal and we go for it.”
Added Central No. 1 singles Sage Riddle: “It’s week by week, what our team looks like. Whenever we’re all here, it’s a lot of fun.”
On Thursday, Alex Shunyakov (No. 2), Bryan Liu (No. 4) and Marco Lequio (No. 6) clinched the Central championship with singles victories. The Bulldogs opened the match by winning two of three doubles matches.
Overnight rain made the outdoor courts unplayable, which moved the match indoors.
That was just fine for Central’s players.
“Weather is the worst (with tennis),” Shunyakov. “Wind, sun in your eyes – especially at noon – the heat would be pretty bad. Then, if it’s humid you can’t breathe and it becomes an endurance test.”
Added Riddle: “Both of us have learned playing tennis in this facility. We’re used to playing on the indoor courts over the winter and in practice. We spend summers here, too. It’s an important place to us.”
Riddle and Shunyakov have taken the reigns as varsity leaders at No. 1 and No. 2 singles, respectively.
“It means I’m helping carry on the legacy of the team,” Riddle said. “Last year, I had grown accustomed to playing with the team of seniors. They were the people that introduced me to the team and made me feel welcomed. This was the first year playing without them, so it’s been different.”
Central beat Lebanon 7-2 in early April. The Bulldogs improved to 11-8 in duals this season.
“We had some players play better than they did at the beginning of the season, and some didn’t have as good of a day today,” Cox said. “That’s okay – it’s a team effort.”
Central moves on to team sectionals/quarterfinals on May 18. The Bulldogs’ pod includes Kickapoo and Joplin.
Lebanon finishes 15-7 overall in duals.
Central 5, Lebanon 1
1. Sage Riddle/Alex Shunyakov (Central) def. Bryson Crowell/Graham Miller, 8-1
2. Zach Stubblefield/Nathan Smith (Lebanon) def. Asa Scott/Bryan Liu, 9-8 (tiebreaker)
3. Marco Lequio/Michael Lee (Central) def. Kyle Maynor/Dalton Myler, 8-1
2. Shunyakov def. Stubblefield, 6-3 and 6-0
4. Liu def. Smith, 6-2 and 6-2
5. Lequio def. Maynor, 6-2 and 6-1