Platte County seniors Nathan Vanek (left) and Jack Forrest (right) celebrate with junior Gavin Nichols after all three won medals during the Class 2 Missouri State Tennis Championships on Friday at Cooper Tennis Complex in Springfield. Contributed photo

Platte County adds 6th-place Class 2 state medals in singles, doubles to historic results

After team’s season ends in frustrating Class 2 quarterfinal loss, Nichols becomes 2-time singles medalist for Pirates, while both state-qualified doubles teams win matches, including top-six showing for Forrest, Vanek.

The only disappointment with the historic season’s conclusion ended up being the finality.

Platte County’s most successful season in program history now includes Class 2 Missouri State Tennis Championships sixth-place medals for junior Gavin Nichols in singles and seniors Jack Forrest and Nathan Vanek in doubles. The top-eight runs came in the wake of a loss in the first playoff dual in program history to conclude the team portion of the postseason.

However, Nichols, Vanek, Forrest plus the doubles team of senior Jaron Cook and sophomore Jack Bralley made the most of Platte County’s final matches of 2022 on Thursday and Friday at Cooper Tennis Complex in Springfield. These five Pirates wrote another groundbreaking chapter in the story of a program in an incredible recent ascendency.

“I’m not sure I’ve ever had such a hard time turning in the school van key at the end of the year,” Platte County coach Zach Keith said. “It was really sad to see these guys get out of that van for the final time. In a sport that has a very strong individual aspect, these guys became a really fun team as the season progressed. They were a group that was always thinking about what was best for our entire team.

“Even I was asking them about their season highlights, note one said something that was their own individual accomplishment. If it was an individual accomplishment, it was the accomplishment of a teammate.”

Jefferson City News Tribune photo
Platte County senior Jack Forrest goes to hit a backhand in a doubles match during a Class 2 quarterfinal against Helias on Monday in Jefferson City.

For the first time, Platte County took three entrants to the individual state tournaments. Nichols advanced to state for the third time, now a three-time Class 2 District 8 singles champion. Vanek became the program’s first two-time doubles qualifier, having gone last spring with older brother Austin Vanek — a 2022 graduate.

Forrest, Cook and Bralley were all first-time qualifiers, completing a contingent that upped last year’s standard of Nichols and the Vanek brothers.

Platte County’s last three years have produced the majority of state opportunities for a program started in the 2009-10 school year. The Pirates’ only qualifiers before Nichols reached state and placed seventh as a freshman were the doubles team of Ethan Savage and Aaron Stout in 2010.

Prior to this past week, Platte County had not won a doubles match at state with both Stout/Savage and the Vaneks both going 0-2. The Pirates now have two tandems with at least one win.

In terms of order, Forrest and Vanek became the first with a 6-3, 6-3 victory over Branson’s Nathan Bartram and Benjamin Merrifield in the third matchup between the two teams this season. Platte County won each of the first two during a weekend trip to southwest Missouri to play duals with Branson and Carthage and then playing in the Branson Doubles Invitational.

Forrest and Vanek needed one more win to guarantee a medal but immediately dropped to the consolation half of the bracket with a 6-3, 6-4 loss to Westminster Christian’s Tyler Colliosn and Alan Walker. That set up a mentally challenging rematch between Platte County’s two doubles teams, which also faced each other in the Class 2 District 8 final.

“In a perfect world, I wish (Cook and Bralley) wouldn’t have had to play Jack and Nathan,” Keith said.

Cook and Bralley opened with a 6-1, 6-0 loss to Barstow’s No. 1 team of Sanjeev Adma and Aaram Salam but managed to quickly recover. Platte County’s No. 3 doubles team with a 6-4, 5-7, 10-8 tiebreaker victory over Missouri Military Academy’s Patricio Bravo-Knobloch and Samuel Way. After a split of the first two sets, Cook and Bralley trailed 7-4 in the super tiebreaker, won three straight games and pulled away from there to hold on for the win.

Jefferson City News Tribune photo
Platte County senior Nathan Vanek hits a forehand in a doubles match during a Class 2 quarterfinal against Helias on Monday in Jefferson City.

“Their second match against Missouri Military Academy was absolutely epic,” Keith said. “This performance was a mirror image of what we’ve seen from these guys all year when they are playing at their best: Jack Bralley playing very consistent, calculated tennis, and Jaron being incredibly aggressive and athletic.”

That set up Thursday’s showdown between teammates.

Coming off the quarterfinal loss, Forrest and Vanek started slow but pulled away for a 6-4, 6-3 win. That ended Bralley’s season and Cook’s career in a difficult scenario to guarantee Platte County’s first-ever state doubles medal.

“I know that was a really tough match for them to play against their own teammates,, but they handled it with class and did a nice job,” Keith said. “I was really proud of the way (Bralley and Cook) battled. Jarond should be really proud of the way he finished his high school career, playing such good tennis, and this tournament certainly proved that Jack Bralley has a very bright future moving forward.”

On Friday, Forrest and Vanek found a way to advance to the fifth-place match. Jeffrson City’s Aarush Deshpande and Arjun Garikapaty took a 5-2 lead in the first set, but Platte County won the next five games then led 5-2 in the second before holding on for an adventurous 7-5, 7-6 (4). The Pirates were actually down 6-5 in the second set before forcing and winning the tiebreaker.

Forrest and Vanek then matched up with the Barstow team that defeated Cook and Bralley in the opening round a day earlier. Gandhi and Colombo took the first set 6-2 and led 3-0 in the second before the Pirates found their footing. Forrest and Vanek then took a brief 4-3 lead but ended up with a 6-2, 6-4 loss.

However, the sixth-place medals proved out the senior duo as the most successful doubles team in program history. Interestingly, Forrest and Vanek built a long history of playing together at Platte County through multiple levels.

“Ultimately, Jack Forrest and Nathan finished their tennis careers in a way I’m not sure they would have even dreamed about as freshmen on the C team during a canceled season (due to the COVID-19 pandemic) or JV players as sophomores trying to prove themselves,” Keith said. “The didn’t accidentally get sixth in the state. They really earned it by working hard and playing really well at state. I was so proud of them.”

Nichols brought by far the most state experience and bounced back from a disappointing end to his sophomore season. He went 3-2 as a freshman to become not only the first singles qualifier but the first medalist, as well, with a combination of a favorable draw and solid play.

Last year, a tough draw in the bracket resulted in a 1-2 trip that left Nichols outside of the top eight.

Nichols made the quarterfinals for the second time in three tries, opening Thursday with a dominant 6-0, 6-1 victory over Hannibal’s Parker Terrill. His first loss of the tournament came in the quarterfinals to Parkway Central’s Ayush Negi, who went on to finish fourth overall.

The win needed to put Nichols back in the medal rounds came in the form of a 6-2, 6-2 sweep of Gorka Yard-Zertuche of Missouri Military Academy. Nichols then made it two straight victories with a 7-5, 6-2 triumph over Barstow’s Liam Gordon, who led 2-1 in what became a tight opening set before fading.

Nichols’ tournament again ended with a 3-2 record, finishing sixth after 6-3, 6-2 loss to Arjun Puri of MICDS in the fifth-place match.

“This year, without a doubt, Gavin was the sixth-best player at state,” Keith said. “His two losses were to two very good players, and those losses were more competitive than the score indicated, especially his fifth-place match. If there was any doubt as to whether or not Gavin belongs with the players on the state’s biggest stage, that was erased this weekend. He has work to do on certain aspects of his game in order to give himself a chance to beat some of the best players, but the gap between him and those guys continues to narrow every season.”

Helias Catholic 5, Platte County 3

Delayed once due to intermittent rainy weather conditions, the Class 2 quarterfinal Monday in Jefferson City ended with the Crusaders winning three of the five completed singles matches to advance to state.

Platte County (15-4) entered after topping Grain Valley 5-1 in the Class 2 District 8 final to reach the playoffs for the first time in program history. The Pirates were eliminated in the district championship dual by 5-4 scores each of the previous two years but earned the opportunity to face off with Helias behind a talented and uniquely cultivated lineup.

Nichols has now played 2 1/2 seasons at No. 1, while Forrest and Vanek were at Nos. 2 and 3 this year as second-year senior starters. At No. 4, Bralley was the lone underclassmen but also been in the lineup for two years, while seniors Mason McBratney (No. 5) and Cook (No. 6) worked their way into the lineup for their final season.

While five of the players ended up with a chance to play at state, McBratney’s career came to an end in a frustrating loss where Helias took a 2-1 lead out of doubles then needed only a split of singles to earn the win.

“You might think that since we had so many individuals qualify for state that they just played like a team satisfied with their accomplishments, but that wasn’t the case at all,” Keith said. “That loss hurt all of us. I’m really glad they had a chance to gain some personal redemption at the individual state tournament.”

Platte County’s lone win in doubles came from Nichols and McBratney at No. 2 (8-1), while the Helias’ Ethan Foucheaux and Jonah Lanigan captured the closest match by a score of 8-4 over Forrest and Vanek. The Pirates started to make a comeback in singles with Bralley’s dominant 6-0, 6-1 victory at No. 4 briefly drawing the dual even.

Helias then won three of the next four with Foucheaux, who went on to finish second in singles at Class 2 state, beating Nichols 6-3, 6-3 in a pivotal matchup. Vanek’s 6-4, 6-4 win at No. 3 kept the Pirates alive, while Forrest took the first set and was tied in the second when the Crusaders finished off the dual.

“Helias is a good team, and they deserved to win that day,” Keith said. “However, we don’t have a single person on our roster, player or coach who believes the best team won on Monday. We just didn’t play our best tennis. Since Monday, literally all six guys have apologized to the team in some capacity due to their individual belief that they personally cost our team the win. I know I’ve done the same as the coach. It’s just one of those losses that’s tough to explain.”

Keith unabashedly called this year’s team the most talented in Platte County history then watched the six players prove him correct. The Pirates will now have four seniors to replace but clear depth at the lower levels with the potential to carve their own path into the lineup to take the next shot at upending the new standards set this year.

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