By Josh Hall
SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – There are a number of banners and plaques that surround the gymnasium and hallways at Kickapoo recognizing the athletic accomplishments over the years at the high school.
With the exception of an occasional dusting, the trophy case for boys tennis team has gone untouched since 2006.
That’s not the case anymore.
Kickapoo earned a 5-0 victory over Ozark on Wednesday to win the Class 2 District 11 championship, something the Chiefs had not accomplished in 11 seasons.
“I couldn’t be prouder to get this into Kickapoo’s trophy case,” coach Eric Wilbur said. “It just means the world to me.”
It does to the players, too.
“It’s amazing,” senior Garrett Howard said. “The first time in a long time.”
The Chiefs proven their abilities all season. Last week, Kickapoo (14-1) claimed an Ozark Conference title for the first time since 2005.
Most of the Kickapoo players weren’t aware of that history.
“No idea,” freshman Matt Zengel said.
Wilbur informed the team prior to the match, which started at Gillenwater Tennis Complex and was moved to Cooper Tennis Complex due to inclement weather, that Kickapoo’s last district title in boys tennis came in 2006.
But Wilbur also said that could change.
“That was the first time I had heard it,” Howard said. “I didn’t really think about it, but in the back of my head I was kind of like, ‘oh man, it’s been a while.’”
Kickapoo held a 3-0 lead and was up in three on-going matches when both teams made the drive across town to the indoor facility at Cooper.
It didn’t take the Chiefs long to finish the job.
“We knew they were good coming in,” Ozark coach Greg Hannah said. “We knew we faced a tough challenge, and I think the kids competed well.”
Howard, Kickapoo’s No. 1 player earned a 6-2, 6-2 victory over Jordan Gangemi. Howard was also part of a double’s team with Zengel that earned an 8-3 win over Gangemi and Cade Christa.
Bernard Parish and Garren Shelley defeated Tate Mahnken and Noah Burgess, 8-4, while the double’s team of Thomas Johnston and Jackson Albeitman defeated Trace Sederwall and Brock Myers, 8-5
Shelley picked up a 6-1, 6-3 win over Christa in the No. 3 single’s slot to give Kickapoo all the points it needed.
“You never count out the competition,” Wilbur said. “Ozark came out here today and battled us hard.”
Kickapoo celebrated the victory by drinking chocolate milk, an idea Wilbur got from the celebrations at the Indianapolis 500 and Brickyard 400.
“We’ve taken this journey,” Wilbur said. “It’s taken 12 years – 11 disappointments in a row. You’ve got to celebrate with milk, and chocolate milk tastes so good – maybe even more with a victory like this.”
Added Howard: “We knew we had a good strong team this year. We didn’t want to seem too cocky. We always wanted to focus on our matches. We went into every match knowing we needed to play hard and we’re not too good for anybody.”
No. 1 Garrett Howard/Matthew Zengel (Kickapoo) def. Jordan Gangemi and Cade Chrastina, 8-3
No. 2 Garren Shelley/Bernard Parrish (Kickapoo) def. Tate Mahnken and Noah Burgess, 8-4
No. 3 Thomas Johnston/Jackson Albeitman (Kickapoo) def Brock Myers and Trace Sederwall, 8-5
No. 1 Garrett Howard (Kickapoo) def. Jordan Gangemi, 6-2, 6-2
No. 2 Matthew Zengel (Kickapoo) vs.Tate Mahnken, DNF, 7-5, 2-1
No. 3 Garren Shelley (Kickapoo) def. Cade Chrastina, 6-1, 6-3
No. 4 Bernard Parrish (Kickapoo) vs. Brock Myers, DNF 3-6, 0-3
No. 5 Thomas Johnston (Kickapoo) vs. Trace Sederwall, DNF 4-1
No. 6 Jackson Albeitman (Kickapoo) vs. Noah Burgess, DNF 4-2