By TOMMY REZAC
St. Joseph Post
The Savannah boys' tennis team has had an impressive run over these last four years. Their four straight district championships spell that loud and clear.
The Savages, this year though, took it a step further. Junior singles player Cole Horton and doubles partners, senior Evan Heftye and junior Noah Gould, made the championship round at the individual state tournament at the Cooper Tennis Complex in Springfield on May 20.
Gould, Heftye and Horton all finished at state runners-up in their respective brackets - the furthest any Savannah boys' player has made it at state in program history.
For Horton, the experience was especially emotional.
"Cole Horton's mom is not well, battling ALS," Savannah head coach Wakefield Hare said. "So, it was likely one of the last competitive tennis matches she's going to see. So, she was right there courtside for his semifinal match against Thomas Griese of Duchesne, who had beat Cole his freshman year. Cole played phenomenal, focused. To overcome what he was officially a underdog in, his Mom and Dad there beside him, it was one of the coolest moments."
Heftye and Gould's performance and eventual result at state were the fruits of their hard work as well.
"We saw a path to the finals," Hare said, "but for (Evan and Noah) to execute and believe and just play really solid all weekend, it was a gift to themselves and to me as their coach."
Savannah has qualified for the state tournament as a team in each of the last four seasons. They had reached quarterfinals each of the last two years, but now have punched their ticket to the Final Four for the first time ever.
Savannah beat defending state champion Warrensburg in sectionals 5-4 and MEC rival St. Pius X 5-0 in quarterfinals.
After a 2-2 start to the season in late March, the Savages would win 11 of their next 13 matches after the calendar flipped to April. Savannah's only losses in that span were to St. Joseph Central (16-2) - a Class 3 school that won a district title and Platte County (15-4) - another district title team from Class 2.
"We've just been in the oven all season and setting the timer for May and the postseason," Hare analogized. "So, I really wanted to test everyone from top to bottom. It's hard to test Cole (Horton), because he's an outlier as far as his talent, but with everyone else, 'Hey, put yourself under the heat and under the pressure. That way in May, you're done and ready to go play your best tennis.'"
Savannah will see Clayton (15-2) in state semifinals on Friday at noon. Clayton is in their fifth Final Four since 2017. Duchesne (15-7) and Bolivar (15-5) are the other semifinalists.
The state championship and third place match are both set for Saturday at noon.
It's a stacked field as one would expect, but Hare says the focus has to be, as always, inward.
"You don't want to psych yourself out and say 'I did not play my best today," Hare said. "That's what we're trying to avoid. If we do that well, we could walk out champions. If we do that well and walk out fourth, I don't think anyone will be disappointed. I think we know if we play well, any of those four spots could be ours."
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