Just over a week ago, Powell High School’s Dylan Preator, the Panthers’ No. 2 singles player, received All-Conference honors for his play during the regular season. But at the Sept. 14-15 regional tournament, Preator struggled to duplicate that success, finishing fifth in a talented field of players from the north.
“During the course of the regular season, he [Preator] certainly showed that he could be very competitive,” said PHS head coach Joe Asay. “That said, as we saw a week ago at regionals, he kind of struggled to put together the right kind of game to be able to get the results we knew he was capable of.”
In the week between the regional and state tournament, however, Preator seemed to be able to put all the pieces together at the right time. The junior went a perfect 4-0 through the field at last weekend’s state tournament in Gillette, beating the top two seeds and emerging as the state champion in No. 2 singles.
In the championship match, Preator outlasted Cheyenne Central’s Ryan Stampfli in three sets 2-6, 6-3, 6-3 to earn the title. It was the second state championship match in a row for Preator, who advanced to the title game last year in No. 1 doubles with teammate Aidan Jacobsen before losing to a Laramie team in three sets.
“I knew to make it to the championship I was going to have to play two No. 1 seeds with undefeated seasons,” Preator said. “I was just kind of thinking I was the underdog; I didn’t have anything to lose. I could just play my best, and it ended up turning out.”
Preator opened the tournament against Rawlins’ Jacob Pacheco, cruising to straight-set win 6-1, 6-0. That set up a rematch against Jackson’s Steven Ashurst, who took the first meeting between the two last month. But Preator won the match that counted, taking down Ashurst in a hard-fought three sets, 4-6, 7-5, 7-5.
“After I took that second set, I felt like I had the upper hand on him and I was able to pull out the win,” Preator said of the match against Ashurst.
“That second-round match was the big, tough challenge against a kid that was ahead of him all season,” Asay said. “He [Preator] got off to a slow start, but then was able to get it finished up.”
A straight-set win against Campbell County’s Tanner Lemm 6-1, 6-0 put Preator in the championship match against Stampfli, where again he got off to a slow start, dropping the first set.
“I started thinking, ‘I had already made it this far; if anything, I would be happy just to compete with this guy,’” Preator said. “But I thought I played pretty well in the first set, so I thought I just need to stay in this and finish it.”
Shaking off the championship-match jitters, Preator was able to regroup, taking the next two sets to claim the title.
“It was good stuff from Dylan [Preator]. He got out there and just seemed to be hitting the shots he needed to hit,” Asay said. “As he can sometimes tend to do, he got off to a slow start against Stampfli, losing that first set. But he came back strong in the second and third to win it.”
After the match, Preator said it took a few minutes for it to sink in that he was the state champ in No. 2 singles.
“It felt great, but it didn’t really feel like I’d won anything,” he explained. “I just felt like I was playing tennis.”