The circumstances were difficult and drastically different but the ultimate outcome remained frustratingly the same.
Grain Valley held seed in the Class 2 District 8 championship dual Wednesday with a 5-4 win at home to earn a playoff trip. The Eagles earned the No. 1 spot in the bracket with a regular season victory by the same score over Platte County three weeks earlier. The almost predictable rematch didn’t mirror the first meeting, but the Pirates (9-7) were unable to do enough to earn the first district championship in program history, losing in the title match for the second year in a row.
Platte County played doubles without second-year senior Austin Vanek but managed to steal a victory but a split of the six singles matches wasn’t enough. The final match ended up being Grain Valley senior Kade Compton’s 7-6 (4), 2-6, 10-6 tiebreaker victory at No. 2.
“Words don’t really do justice to how incredible this dual was from start to finish,” Platte County ty coach Zach Keith said. “I’ve coached in plenty of matches that come down to a final court to determine the 5-4 or 4-5 outcome, but never a match that was so incredibly contested at every spot throughout the lineup. I think (Grain VAlley’s coach) would agree that there were multiple times between 4 and 7 p.m. that I felt like we were likely going to win and multiple times that I felt like we were likely going to lose.”
With Austin Vanek tending to an academic obligation, Keith understood the tall task.
Platte County sophomore No. 1 and junior No. 2 Jack Forrest scored an upset win the first time around over twin brothers Carter and Kade Compton, who are returning Class 2 state medalists and the District 8 doubles champions from the week prior. Grain Valley took the No. 1 doubles match in the championship dual 8-5 in the first reversal from the previous results.
Keith then made some shifts and pushed freshman Jack Bralley and Shane Duggan to No. 2 doubles, and although Grain Valley took the match 8-5, the move paid off. Platte County’s unique team of junior Nathan Vanek (No. 4 singles and typically his brothers’ partner at No. 2 doubles) teamed with senior Nathan Macaluso at No. 3. The alteration only worked because of the math formula based on a player’s determined position in singles that allowed Vanek to bump down a spot with the No. 8 player in the lineup — total of 12 to Bralley and Duggan’s combined number of 11 as the Nos. 5 and 6).
Nathan Vanek and Macaluso responded with a key 8-3 victory that created some momentum for Platte County and actually an early 1-0 lead in the team score. Even more impressive, Grain Valley’s No. 3 doubles team had only one previous loss this season. Still, the Pirates would need four of six singles victories, knowing the two teams split them in the regular season.
Grain Valley went up 3-1 with a sweep from senior Micah Siems, the third-place medalist in singles at individual districts, over Bralley at No. 5.
Duggan closed the gap for Platte County with a second victory of the season over Isaac Burd at No. 6. The previous meeting went to a third set tiebreaker, but Duggan, a first-year starter, swept this on 6-2, 6-2. However, Nathan Vanek’s 6-4, 6-3 loss at No. 4 — much closer than an earlier loss to the same opponent — put the Eagles within one win of closing out the dual. In what would be the final singles match of his career, Austin Vanek kept the Pirates alive with a 6-1, 2-6, 10-2 victory at No. 3.
In the next reversal of results, Nichols avenged a prior loss to Carter Compton at No. 1. Compton won a third set tiebreaker in the first meeting, but Nichols won two extremely competitive sets (6-4, 7-5) to pull the dual even and shifting the focus to the No. 2 match.
Grain Valley’s Kade Compton prevailed 7-6 in the first set, but Forrest rallied back for a 6-2 victory in the second, seemingly taking inspiration from Nichols’ adjacent victory. However, Kade Compton immediately took a 5-2 lead in the tiebreaker only to then fall behind 6-5 but ultimately prevail 10-6 in the decider.
“I was really proud of the way Jack Forrest played throughout his match, including that pressure-packed tie-breaker,” Keith said of his first-year starter who ascended all the way to the No. 2 spot. “Jack has been one of our best players all season, and as a coach, you want guys like that playing in the most important matches. It didn’t go his way today, but that’s not the last big match of Jack’s career. He’ll be back and better than ever.”
Despite the loss, Platte County’s season continues for half the roster.
Nichols previously captured his second straight Class 2 District 8 titles and goes back to the Class 2 Missouri State Tennis Championships looking to improve on last year’s seventh-place medal. He is the only singles qualifier in program history and the only individual state medalist. Austin Vanek and Nathan Vanek made an inspired run to the district finals and finishing as runnersup to become the second doubles team in program history and first in more than a decade to make state, which will be held Wednesday and Thursday at Cooper Tennis Complex in Springfield.
The loss did end a successful season and one-year career for Duggan, who played No. 6 singles and No. 3 doubles from the opening dual.
Platte County entered the season with only Nichols and Austin Vanek back from last year’s district runnerup team, which featured four seniors. Austin Vanek entered 2021 as the Pirates’ most experienced player but having never played above junior varsity as a freshman and then losing his sophomore season to the COVID-19 cancelation. He opened at No. 1 before eventually ceding that spot to Nichols, playing No. 2 late in the year and settling in at No. 3 as a senior after Forrest’s development pushed him into the top half of the lineup.
Nathan Vanek played No. 4 with Bralley at No. 5 for his freshman season.
Platte County 5, William Chrisman 1
The Pirates reached the final for a second straight year with a more difficult result than the final score indicated Tuesday at Platte County High School.
Platte County came out of doubles with a 2-1 lead but faced adversity from the senior-laden and third-seeded Bears. Nichols dropped the first set to fellow sophomore Brandon Keltner but came back for a 4-6, 6-4, 12-10 victory at No. 1 singles, while Duggan ended up with a rollercoaster 6-2, 1-6, 10-5 victory at No. 6.
Nathan Vanek scored the most dominant singles victory (6-2, 6-0) at No. 4 for Platte County. Forrest was up a set and tied in the second at No. 2, while Austin Vanek led in the second set at No. 3 after dropping his first set. Bralley was tied 6-6 in the first set at No. 6.
Nichols and Forrest dominated the No. 1 doubles match (8-1), while the Vanek brothers prevailed 8-5.
Platte County won the first meeting with William Chrisman two weeks earlier by a comfortable 8-1 margin even with Austin Vanek unavailable. The Pirates swept the doubles matches in that meeting, but the Bears altered the lineup this time around to better results, along with Keltner’s strong play against Nichols after losing 10-3 the first time around.
Platte County 5, KC East 0
The Pirates opened the week Monday with the expected shutout of seventh-seeded East at Platte County High School.
With the ability to flex the lineup given the matchup, Platte County didn’t miss a beat with Duggan and Bralley not playing. The Pirates had doubles wins for Nichols and Forrest at No. 1 (8-1), Austin Vanek and Nathan Vanek at No. 2 (8-1) and junior Mason McBratney and Macaluso at No. 3 (8-2). They then secured the team victory with three singles matches all finishing at 6-1, 6-0 around the same time but with only two needed for the official final score.
Nichols (No. 1), Forrest (No. 2) and Nathan Vanek (No. 3) were the winners for Platte County with the Pirates up in the second set of each of the other three matches, as well.