HESSTON—On Thursday, both McPherson High School and Smoky Valley High School kicked off their first invitational of the year at Hesston. The Bullpups tied for first place with 22 points, splitting with Hesston High School and Buhler High School. The Vikings scored 14 points, which tied for second with Abilene High School.

The Bullpups had a clutch performance by their two doubles team. Taylor Bruce and CeAnna Allen took first place after beating the Martin sisters, Kylie and Michaela, of the Swathers, 8-1.

This was after having an intense battle with Abilene when Bruce sealed the deal in the final set after trailing 6-5.

"Taylor Bruce was awesome today. She showed leadership, and just seem to play lights out in pressure situations," Bullpups head coach Tyler Brown said. "I couldn't been more happy for her to start out the year so well. She and CeAnna (Allen) came up clutch in the semifinals against Abilene doubles team that finished second in our regional last year, so that was a terrific win. It was like a light switched on when they were down 6-5 to Abilene and fought back to win in a tiebreaker. They carried that momentum into the finals playing lights out tennis."

Ashley Achilles and Rachel Carlson competed at Hesston College, where they were also victorious in their doubles match after defeating the team of Brenna Riffel and Trinity Sampson of Abilene 8-4. Despite a slow start, according to Brown, they were able to finish strong when they need to.

"Ashley and Rachel started the day a little slower, but got better with every match," Brown said. "They showed why they are returning state qualifiers and could be a force to be reckoned with."

In the singles match, freshmen Patty Huerta and Carley Malm were put right into the fire in their varsity debut. Malm was able to finish fourth, while Huerta finished six in singles.

"I asked a lot out of these two freshman. Not too many girls get the opportunity to play singles as freshman at the varsity level, and they held their own," Brown said. "Once they get a few more matches under their belt, they will be a tough out for many teams. I look forward to them getting better with every tournament we go to."

Smoky Valley's Kira Haxton was the star on the team. The three-time state qualifier won singles bracket after defeating Aliyah Frederick of Buhler High School 8-5.

"I'm really pleased with Kira (Haxton). She had a great day. I shouldn't say it was a surprised, but it was a little bit of a surprise how well she played in her first tournament," Bellah said. I'm very proud of her, and I though she played within herself. She played smart tennis."

Haxton gave props to Frederick and the Crusaders after a competitive match, considering them her toughest opponent.

"Aliyah, she's really good," Haxton said. "She pushed me and it was a tough match, but I was able to pull through which was nice."

In doubles, the team of Lana Clarke and Morgan Bowles were able to finish fifth in the consolation round. Isabella Wright took six in her singles match. 

The Bullpups will return to McPherson for their home invitational next Thursday at 3 p.m. For the Vikings, they will be at Ellsworth High School for their next invitational next Tuesday at 3 p.m.

Team Scores: McPherson 22 Hesston 22 Buhler 22 Smoky Valley 14 Abilene 14 Trinity Academy 8 Maize South 7 Extras 7  

Contact Peter Holland Jr. by email at pholland@mcphersonsentinel.com or follow him on Twitter @Petes_Picks_orour sports page @MacCountySports