Platte County coach Zach Keith saw the potential in his top freshman before the season. Gavin Nichols made good on the promise.
In a historic day for a program still less than two decades old, Nichols completed a quick ascension to the top of Platte County’s lineup to Class 2 District 8 singles champion with a 6-4, 2-6, 6-2 win over William Chrisman’s Jordan Twenter on Friday at Platte County High School. The Pirates advanced all four entrants to the tournament’s semifinals, but Nichols earned the only spot in the upcoming Class 2 Missouri State Tennis Championships, becoming the first individual district champion in school history and the first to make the state singles bracket.
Previously, Platte County’s only state qualifier had been the doubles team of Ethan Savage and Aaron Stout back in 2010 when the Pirates were still in Class 1.
The finals match between Nichols and Twenter capped a memorable day for Platte County and veteran coach Zach Keith. Nichols and senior Daunte Alaiwat (third) and the Pirates’ doubles team of seniors Bradley Beeson and Tony Railsback (third) and junior Austin Vanek and senior Emilio Escamilla (fourth) all medaled.
A team in transition to the very end, Platte County didn’t have clear-cut entries for the district tournament.
Keith eventually went with Nichols and Alaiwat in singles. Nichols started the season at No. 2 singles for the Pirates but supplanted Vanek for the top spot just a few weeks earlier, while Alaiwat — the Pirates’ No. 3 — said he wanted to take on the challenge and earned the No. 6 seed.
Nichols earned the No. 1 seed and rolled into the final and earned a tough win in the first set before dropping the second and dominating the third for the title. Keith called him the most developed freshman in the history of Platte County’s program, and with the state adding a third classification for boys tennis, the Pirates had a new and more equitable path to state for individuals.
Previously, Platte County competed in the biggest of two classes, but with the adjustment, the Pirates remained in Class 2 and away from the state’s largest and most successful programs. Nichols will play in the state singles bracket next weekend at Cooper Tennis Complex in Springfield.
Nichols nearly had company for state.
Alaiwat upset No. 3 seed Zion Holmes of Winnetonka in the quarterfinals before a straight-set loss to Twenter, the No. 2 seed. Alaiwat then went on to claim the third-place match, which was at the time the best result of any singles player in program history at the district level.
“Alaiwat has become an absolute force on the tennis court his senior year, and it wasn’t surprising at all to see him do so well individually today in spite of where he was seeded,” Keith said.
Beeson and Railsback entered the doubles bracket as the No. 5 seed and scored a minor upset in the quarterfinals to earn a shot at the No. 1 seed from Kearney. Platte County’s senior duo — undefeated at No. 3 doubles in duals this season — took the opening set 6-2 but lost in three sets.
Vanek and Escamilla won their quarterfinal over Kearney’s other doubles team, 7-5, 7-6 before losing out to Grain Valley’s No. 2 seeded Compton twins. That set up a third-place match between Platte County teammates with Beeson and Railsback winning 6-2.
Platte County (8-4) immediately shifts focus to the Class 2 District 8 team bracket. The Pirates earned the No. 1 seed via regular season wins over Kearney and Grain Valley in what should be an extremely competitive bracket.
Earning a first round bye, Platte County opens play Tuesday against either No. 4 William Chrisman or Winnetonka. The Pirates beat both during the regular season, and the semifinal winner advances to Thursday’s championship dual scheduled to be played at Platte County High School.
Platte County entered the season with zero returners from 2019, the last high school season after the COVID pandemic wiped out last year’s competition. Vanek played in the middle of the junior varsity lineup as a freshman, but the four seniors that ended up in this year’s top six had no previous experience. Nichols became the final piece to a deep and balanced team.
Three of Platte County’s four losses came against Class 3 schools, and Savannah, which won 5-4 over the Pirates, competes in Class 1. The Pirates closed the regular season with wins over Park Hill South and Lee’s Summit to take momentum into Tuesday’s semifinal matchup.