Zach Keith knows not much returns from the last team to take the court for Platte County in 2019. The Pirates won’t be unique in that aspect after sports were nixed across the state last spring due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, what Keith does have is a competitive roster, and a potential star-in-the-making in freshman Gavin Nichols.
“We have zero men on this team who have played a varsity match in their entire career, so this entire season is going to boil down to how well our varsity guys can adjust to the new level of competition,” Keith said. “The good news is that our schedule is very unforgiving, and we play a lot of good competition that will help expedite the process of improvement. The bad news is that our schedule is very unforgiving,” he joked.
However, Nichols will undoubtedly make an immediate impact with Keith expecting him to slot into the top half of the lineup for Platte County, which finished 7-7 and lost in the Class 2 District 16 semifinals to top-seeded Park Hill to close the 2019 season. The Pirates expected Isaac Cook and Baxter Stone to be the top returning players from that team along with a host of other seniors who had a chance to contribute.
The only player back from the roster two years ago will be junior Austin Vanek, who played No. 3 junior varsity as a freshman. That could allow Nichols to immediately slot into an important spot in the lineup.
“I’ve never had a freshman male or female tennis player who entered the program with the skill level or on-court maturity of Gavin,” said Keith, who was the first and still only permanent head coach for both programs at Platte County.
In addition to Vanek and Nichols, Keith expects seniors Daunte Alaiwat, Emilio Escamilla, Bradley Beeson, Tony Railsback and Jackson Banks plus juniors Nathan Macaluso and Jarett Mueller to compete for varsity time. The season off has undoubtedly created uncertainty like Platte County’s for lineups throughout the state, and the Missouri State High School Activities has also added a third classification for the sport starting this season, meaning the Pirates could also be in a very different postseason assignment that could create additional competitive opportunities for individuals and the team.
Platte County could be in Class 2 and move away from larger schools like Park Hill, Park Hill South and Staley when district assignments are released.
“I’m really excited about this season because these guys have a chance to re-establish a culture of hard work and excellence within the Platte County tennis program,” Keith said. “We didn’t embrace that as well as we should have in 2019, and then with last season getting cancelled, it almost feels like we’ve had the opportunity to push the reset button to get back to who we want to be as a program. The guys have been great so far and have been eager to get better every day.”