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Deep TMP chess squad wins fifth straight tournament

By DIANE GASPER-O'BRIEN

dobrien@dailynews.net

Depth can win many a ball game in an athletic arena. Students at Thomas More Prep-Marian High School are learning that can go for chess, too.

Despite missing one of its leading scorers on the season, the Monarchs' chess team won its fifth consecutive tournament Saturday.

They did it by what athletic coaches call "others stepping up."

All four of the Monarchs who figured into team scoring for the team placed higher than their tourney seeding to claim the title of the Onaga Tournament.

Playing without junior Jacob Brull, who had a prior commitment, the Monarchs were led by junior Ryan Hammerschmidt, who was seeded ninth but grabbed individual runner-up honors.

Hammerschmidt scored five points with his five victories in six matches, and freshman Patrick Kepka, who was seeded seventh, also scored five points and finished fourth overall.

That led TMP to its highest team total this season in outdistancing runner-up Topeka-Washburn Rural, 18-15.

TMP coach Randy Brull has a hard time pinpointing exactly why the Monarchs have been able to play at such a top level week in and week out this season. Like most successful seasons, it's more than just one area where the team is excelling.

Besides following through on completing exercises he encourages them to do individually outside of team practice time, Brull said the students also enjoy being around each other.

"There's a real good team dynamic," he said. "The older kids are sharing their knowledge in a quality way. The team chemistry is real healthy this year."

And then there's that depth.

In the three tournaments in which he has competed, Brull has finished in the top two individually while scoring at least four points.

Even without him Saturday, four other teammates accomplished that feat, and two who didn't even figure into the team scoring -- sophomores Andrew Yueh and Jacob Werth -- went 3-3.

"Years ago, the kids wanted to go to state, and I told them I wasn't taking them to state until they could win half their matches," Randy Brull said. "We crossed that bridge several years back, and it's heartening to me to see so many of them doing that and then some now."

Making the biggest jump for the Monarchs was sophomore Russell Krug, who was seeded 18th to start the tourney but scored four points and ended seventh. Rounding out the Monarchs' scoring on the day was senior Bill Wiebe with four points in 10th place.

TMP also fared well in junior high action, finishing second as a team behind Onaga. TMP seventh-graders Ethan Rohr and Jason Kepka, Patrick's younger brother, placed second and fourth, individually.

The Monarchs will be off until Feb. 16 when they compete in one of their largest regular-season tournaments, at Wichita's Pleasant Valley.

Brull said he knows it will be a tall order to win that tournament, but no matter what, his team will see some quality competition heading into the final stretch of the season.

TMP will compete at Hillsboro on March 2 before traveling to Wichita the next week to take part in state, where the Monarchs placed second in Class 3A last year.

"There will be a lot of teams (at Pleasant Valley)," he said. "It's great preparation for state."