Platte County senior Maria Molinari hits a shot during a match in a dual with Winnetonka on Thursday at Platte County High School. TODD NUGENT/PC Preps Extra

Keith’s “bet” on his current seniors paying off as postseason nears

After finishing off unbeaten Blue Division title, Platte County finds success at Northland Tournament ahead of the start of Class 2 District 8 play this week.
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The end of the run nears, but a successful week offered a chance for Platte County’s longtime coach Zach Keith to reflect on the impressive development of his current senior class. The Pirates swept Suburban Conference Blue Division duals with Ruskin on Tuesday and Winnetonka on Thursday before Saturday’s successful showing at the always-tough Northland Tournament.

Platte County senior Rayna Garcia hits a shot during a match in a dual with Winnetonka last Thursday at Platte County High School.

Platte County enters the final week of the regular season at 11-2 with the program’s first conference title since 2017 behind nine seniors.

Keith noted on Senior Night against Winnetonka just how far the players have come since being down the rungs on a successful 2018 team. Six of the seniors — and a seventh out this season due to injury — have made major contributions to the rebuilding project.

Consider the first rankings on the roster for each of those seven seniors:

  • Maria Molinari, No. 9
  • Sophie Curtis, No. 13
  • Rayna Garcia, No. 16
  • Aleah Dixon, No. 23 (offseason knee surgery ended her tennis career)
  • Taylor Mayne, No. 24
  • Molly McBratney, No. 32
  • Bri White, No. 36 (as a sophomore)

In 2019, Platte County went 4-9 — a difficult low point for the program — but rebounded to go 7-10 a year ago. Along the way, the Pirates never shied away from competition that would help them get better.

“I had a choice to make as I prepared the schedule for the (2019) season: do I eliminate some of the good competition we had grown accustomed to playing, or do I gamble on this group of girls working hard and getting Platte County tennis back to the level we can all be proud of?” He said. “I chose to place my bets on this group. Remember that. Your coaches believed in you.”

Platte County senior Taylor Mayne hits a smash in a doubles match during a dual with Winnetonka on Thursday at Platte County High School.

And the players clearly rewarded that belief.

Although Platte County lost in the Class 2 District 8 semifinals in 2020, McBratney, who completed an incredible run from bottom tier to unquestioned No. 1 in the span of two seasons, became the first singles state qualifier in program history. She continues to lead the team with Molinari (No. 2), Curtis (No. 3), Garcia (No. 4), Mayne (No. 5) and White (No. 3 doubles) providing depth that has the Pirates hoping to advance further as a team and perhaps earn multiple state bids this season.

Last week, Platte County started with a pair of easy wins, taking all nine matches from Ruskin by a score of 9-0. They also dominated all nine matches with Winnetonka to finish off the undefeated run through the Blue Division, although an earlier win over Kearney ended up being the only real conference test. The Pirates won that one 9-0, as well.

The Northland Tournament provided a tuneup for the postseason.

Platte County placed fourth in the final team standings with McBratney earning the best finish, advancing to the A singles final. She defeated Park Hill South’s No. 3 player in the semifinals and ended up 2-1 for the tournament.

Molinari and Garcia played B Doubles and reached the semifinals before dropping their final two matches to finish fourth.

Platte County senior Molly McBratney reaches for a return shot during a doubles match in a dual with Winnetonka on Thursday at Platte County High School.

Platte County junior Ellie Fish, the only non-senior in the rotation this year, played B doubles and finished sixth, while Mayne and Curtis battled back for a first-round loss to place fifth. In the fifth-place match, they topped Kearney’s No. 1 doubles team, showing the potential for Class 2 District 8 play.

On Tuesday, Platte County plays at Grain Valley in a massive matchup for the team tournament seeding. The Pirates then close the regular season at home against Park Hill on Wednesday.

The Class 2 District 8 individual tournament will be Thursday in Kearney with state berths on the line. McBratney will be looking for a repeat singles championship, while Molinari, Curtis, Garcia, Mayne, White and Fish in some combination with one player left out will look to fill the other singles and two doubles entries.

The top two singles and doubles teams advance directly to the Class 2 Missouri State Tennis Championships in Springfield. McBratney went 0-2 a year ago.

The Class 2 District 8 team tournament will start next week with seeds and matchups to be determined.

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