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TMP hopes to repeat chess success

3/6/2014

By DIANE GASPER-O'BRIEN

dobrien@dailynews.net

This weekend, the Thomas More Prep-Marian High School chess team will try to duplicate, if not exceed, its performance at state the past two years.

The Monarchs, after finishing as state runner-up in 2012 and '13, are headed to Lawrence on Saturday for the Kansas Scholastic Chess Association Tournament, hoping to bring home the first-place trophy.

Both of the past two years, TMP finished second to Erie. The Monarchs tied them for first two years ago but lost out for the top prize in a tiebreaker, and last year Erie finished one point ahead of TMP.

Senior Jacob Brull is the only Monarch who was part of those two state runner-up teams and led the Monarchs at last year's state meet with a sixth-place overall finish, winning all but one of his six matches.

But Brull has a strong supporting cast, including sophomore Patrick Kepka, who scored four points at last year's state meet.

Kepka has been one of the top performers for TMP this year, including a second-place finish out of 40 individual participants at Hillsboro last weekend. That performance led the Monarchs to second place in team scoring at Hillsboro.

Coach Randy Brull thinks TMP has a good shot at the title after watching his team mature the past few years.

"I'd like to think if we have one with a 1,000 rating or in that neighborhood, we could have a good team," Brull said. "We've had generally one player with that rating, and this year we have two who are good solid high school chess players. And they have some supporting players as well."

The two Monarchs with those 1,000-plus ratings are Kepka at 1,263 and Brull, 1,142.

Another returnee off last year's state runner-up team is Peak Navanimitkul, a sophomore resident student from Thailand. That trio will be joined at state by juniors Russell Krug and Jacob Werth and sophomore Justyce Briney.

The TMP Junior High will have a full team at state for the first time. Eighth-grader Jason Kepka returns after competing last year individually, and completing the young Monarchs' team will be seventh-graders Paul Brull, Sheldon Weber and Nathan Zimmerman.

The Hays participant taking the highest rating into state is Sheena Zeng, a fifth-grader at O'Loughlin Elementary School.

After finishing as the top third-grader at state two years ago -- fourth out of 146 in the grade 3-and-under division -- Zeng finished seventh among fourth-graders last year, which placed her 15th overall in the kindergarten through fifth-grade division. She has a rating of 1,610.

"She is a very strong chess player," Randy Brull said. "Definitely the highest rating for (Hays) at the state meet."