By Brennan Stebbins (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
The Thomas Jefferson boys hadn’t lost a singles or doubles match all season – until Friday at the Joplin High School tennis tournament.
Willard earned a split against the Cavaliers in four matches, but Thomas Jefferson’s freshman duo of Prithvi Nagarajan and Lele Qian pulled out an 8-4 win in No. 2 doubles to seal their team’s tournament win.
The Cavaliers – who entered with a 10-0 record in regular season play and without a loss in singles or doubles all season – finished the day 13-3, and coach Tom Brumfield said Willard provided some of the toughest competition they’ve seen.
“No doubt,” he said. “And we saw some good stuff out of Branson, too. It was nice seeing some different people and competition. We’ve been saying somebody’s got to pick each other up. We hadn’t had to do that so far but now when you have some people get beat, it’s nice to see how they respond because we really hadn’t had to experience that this year.”
Thomas Jefferson, with Ian Ding as its top singles player and Christopher Wheelen as its No. 2, opened the day with a dominant win against the host Eagles. Ding and Wheelen each won 8-0, the No. 1 doubles team of Noah Hamlett and Tyler Brouhard won 8-1 and Nagarajan and Qian won 8-2.
Branson’s Garrett Beckham handed the team its first defeat, winning 8-5 in No. 2 singles later on, but the Cavaliers beat the Pirates 3-1 and then swept Carl Junction 8-0, 8-0, 8-1, 8-1.
Still, the tournament title hung in the balance when Thomas Jefferson took on Willard in the final match of the day with the Cavaliers at 11-1 and the Tigers at 10-2. And Willard won both singles matches: Caiden Lingenfelser beat Ding 8-1 and Alex Crawford beat Wheelen 8-6.
Thomas Jefferson evened things up in No. 1 doubles, with Hamlett and Brouhard winning 8-5 against Luke Christensen and Brayden Roth. Then Nagarajan and Qian finished off the day with the 8-4 win over Austin Long and Seth Miller.
CLICK HERE FOR PHOTOS OF THE TOURNAMENT
“The number two doubles team, I had to pull up number seven on our team to play in it because my number five player wasn’t here today,” Brumfield said. “Both of them being freshmen, they hadn’t played a whole lot together. It became a very important win of course so that was nice to see them pick that up and win both of their big matches against Branson and Willard.”
“It was a great day,” Brumfield said. “Ian finally got a match against a very good player from Willard that was pretty darn tough.”
Willard, which finished 12-4, started off with 4-0 wins against Joplin and Carl Junction, dropping just six games in the process. The Tigers split against Branson, winning 8-0 in No. 1 singles and 8-1 in No. 2 singles but falling 8-6 in No. 1 doubles to Gavin Brown and Nathan Bartram and falling 8-1 in No. 2 doubles against Caleb Buxton and Jacob Decker.
“Really happy with our team effort,” Willard coach Ty Bills said. “We knew coming here we’d get some good competition, especially with T.J. We know their program, we’ve got nothing but respect for them and we’ve done our homework, we know they’re pretty darn good. So I’m just happy with the overall effort. Of course Caiden played excellent today and took care of business. Alex Crawford played his best tennis he’s played all year. Really happy with his performance. And then our doubles kids really came out and competed against some lineups that are not normal lineups. Really happy with the way they competed with some of the other teams’ 1’s and 2’s that played doubles today.”
Bills said he felt good about providing such a challenge to Thomas Jefferson and thought the Tigers deserved a pat on the back for their showing against the Cavaliers.
“We won’t get too big of a head there but we’ll make sure our kids are proud of their effort today,” he said.
Branson went 10-6 in the tournament, including 4-0 against Carl Junction and 3-1 against Joplin. Branson’s doubles teams both went 4-0.
Joplin finished 4-12 and beat Carl Junction 3-1. Jeffrey Evenson won 8-3 in No. 1 singles for a 2-2 day, Michael Mancipe won 8-2 in No. 2 singles and Ben Wardlow and Colin Vermillion won 8-6 in No. 1 doubles.
“I know the highlight was definitely our match against Carl Junction,” Joplin coach Aaron Stump said. “I enjoyed winning in the two singles matches because those guys have been playing pretty hard. I really liked that (No. 1) doubles match, too, because that team hadn’t ‘been winning a whole lot previous to this.”
The Eagles were without their No. 1 and No. 4 players.
Carl Junction’s lone win came in No. 2 doubles against Joplin, with Jose Figueroa and Jordan Markham winning 8-2.