By DIANE GASPER-O'BRIEN
The chess team from Thomas More Prep-Marian High School finished second at state for the third consecutive year Saturday.
But Hays still had a state champion.
Sheena Zeng, a fifth-grader at O'Loughlin Elementary School, recorded a perfect score of 6.0 to claim the title of the K-5 grade division at the Kansas Scholastic Chess Association state tournament in Lawrence.
Zeng was one of only four players to go undefeated.
While the state meet completed TMP's season, it was just one on a long list for Zeng, who now is looking forward to the all-girls' state meet later this month. The winner of that tourney will be invited to the U.S. Open Championships this summer in Florida.
Zeng and her parents, Hong Biao and Michelle Zeng, travel the country on weekends and holiday breaks for Sheena to participate in chess tournaments. And it has paid off.
The younger Zeng fares quite well while competing in tournaments, even against players much older than her.
For instance, in the KSCA circuit this school year, Zeng won two tournaments and placed in the top five of two others while playing against students as much as seven years her senior.
"A very impressive accomplishment," said Randy Brull, TMP's coach who watched Zeng claim top honors at the TMP tournament last fall with five wins and a draw, beating some of his high school students along the way.
TMP's high school squad finished as state runner-up to Erie in Class 3A for the third straight year.
While the past two years were close with Erie winning by a tiebreaker in 2012 and a one-point margin last year, the Red Devils made sure there was no doubt which team was the best not only in 3A, but in the entire state, this time around.
EHS scored 20 points to outdistance the Monarchs by six points, and that also placed Erie at the top of all 22 schools, regardless of class, at the state meet. Class 6A Lawrence was a close second overall to Erie with 19.5 points.
All but one of the seven teams that placed second through eighth between Erie and TMP, which placed ninth among classes, were from either 5A or 6A schools.
Senior Jacob Brull led TMP with 4.5 points to finish 18th out of the 153 high school competitors. Sophomore Patrick Kepka also finished with 4.5 points and earned the 49th-place medal.
TMP's junior high fielded a full team for the first time and finished sixth among 26 teams with 14 points, just 1.5 points out of third.
The young Monarchs were led by seventh-graders Nicholas Zimmerman (20th place) and Sheldon Weber (38th), who each scored four points in the field of 140 participants.