Platte County sophomore Gavin Nichols hits a backhand in a singles match at the Class 2 Missouri State Tennis Championships on Thursday at Cooper Tennis Complex in Springfield. AMANDA SULLIVAN/Special to PC Preps Extra

Platte County’s biggest state contingent ever unable to come back with hardware

Nichols, team of Austin and Nathan Vanek gave Pirates a singles, doubles entrants for 1st time in this week’s trip to Springfield.
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The brackets did no favors, and the most accomplished season in program didn’t receive the fitting conclusion.

AMANDA SULLIVAN/Special to PC Preps Extra
Platte County junior Nathan Vanek, right, and Austin Vanek react after a point in a doubles match at the Class 2 Missouri State Tennis Championships on Thursday at Cooper Tennis Complex in Springfield.

Platte County sophomore Gavin Nichols went 1-2 in his second trip to the Class 2 Missouri State Tennis Championships in singles Thursday and Friday at Cooper Tennis Complex in Springfield, while the brother tandem of senior Austin Vanek and junior Nathan Vanek enjoyed a unique opportunity but went winless in the doubles bracket. For the first time, the Pirates sent more than one individual entrant to conclude a year that included a second straight Suburban Conference Blue Division title and a second straight runnerup showing in the Class 2 District 8 team tournament.

“I think all three guys felt like they could have played better tennis, but they all have the ability to see the big picture and realize they had great seasons and have a lot to be proud of,” Platte County coach Zach Keith said.

A district champion in singles for a second straight year, Nichols again reached the state quarterfinals with a 6-4, 7-5 over Thomas Jefferson Independent’s Prithvi Nagarajan in a first round match delayed until late morning Thursday and moved indoors due to rain. Nichols then received an interesting matchup with Willard No. 2 Alex Crawford.

Willard traveled to Platte County earlier this year for a dual and then stayed in town for the Pirates’ home tournament. Nichols β€” No. 1 in Platte County’s lineup β€” and Crawford did not meet in singles, but the Tigers’ district runnerup prevailed 6-3, 7-5 to reach the semifinals and guarantee a medal.

A year ago, Nichols bounced back from his quarterfinal loss with an inspired run through the backside to earn a seventh-place medal. This time, a quirk in the bracket made that task much more difficult. He immediately matched up with Willard junior No. 1 and District 7 champion Caden Lingenfelser, who lost a tight two-set match to Parkway Central district runnerup Ayush Negi in the opening round.

AMANDA SULLIVAN/Special to PC Preps Extra
Platte County sophomore Gavin Nichols hits a serve during a singles match at the Class 2 Missouri State Tennis Championships on Thursday at Cooper Tennis Complex in Springfield.

Lingenfelser won his regular season matchup with Nichols in convincing fashion and did so again (6-0, 6-2) in the state consolation quarterfinal. Nichols’ tournament ended at 1-2 and without a second straight state medal.

Negi went on to finish third, handily beating Crawford in the medal match. Lingenfelser rolled through each of his matches after the opening round loss to place fifth.

After a notable upset to reach the District 8 final, the Vaneks became the first state doubles team for Platte County in over a decade. Ethan Savage and Aaron Stout were the last back in 2010 when the Pirates were still in Class 1.

Austin and Nathan Vanek opened the state doubles bracket with a tough 4-6, 6-2, 10-4 loss to Farmington’s Maddox Waller-Brenneke and Wyatt Bach to immediately hit the backside. Platte County’s No. 2 doubles team for the second half of the season then bowed out with a 6-1, 6-1 loss to Branson’s Garrett Beckham and Jacob Decker, who lost in the opening round to the eventual third-place finishers and went on to medal sixth.

“The trip may not have resulted in any medals, but it definitely fueled the fire for the underclassmen to prepare to get back to state and be better next year,” Keith said. “Our greatest growth was we gradually learned how to fight. We lack that early on, but the guys embraced that down the stretch, and it showed.”

Platte County loses only two seniors from this year’s top six plus an additional contributor.

Austin Vanek’s state appearance capped a unique two-year run as a varsity starter. Due to the canceled COVID-19 season in 2020, he went from a junior varsity regular to starting his junior season at No. 1. Nichols eventually earned that spot, and Austin Vanek closed last year behind him and settled in at No. 3 this season after junior Jack Forrest worked his way into the No. 2 position.

In addition, Platte County senior Shane Duggan enjoyed a successful season mostly at No. 6, while fellow senior Nathan Macaluso received opportunities to play at No. 3 doubles at points this spring.

Platte County went 9-7 with a difficult schedule but returns Nichols, Forrest, No. 4 Nathan Vanek and freshman Jack Bralley next year, along with junior Mason McBratney, who topped the junior varsity lineup this season. Nichols is the first district singles champion in program history and now the only one to achieve that twice. He lost nine singles matches, all to state qualifiers and six of them to state medalists.

For the first time, Platte County will return two state qualifiers with Nathan Vanek a candidate to play as high as No. 3 as a senior. The Pirates will enter 2023 as two-time defending Blue Division champions and looking to earn the first team district title in program history after back-to-back losses in the Class 2 District 8 championship dual, having dropped it to Kearney in 2021 and Grain Valley in 2022.

“Our team has an extremely bright future,” Keith said. “We’ve got Gavin, both Jacks and Nathan Vanek returning from the top six, but we’ve got other guys who are very motivated to bring home a team district title next year and send as many guys to state as possible.”

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