By Don Eskins (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
The Missouri State High School Athletic Association wound up state team tennis tournament play on Saturday, May 29, at the Cooper Tennis Complex here in Springfield.
Three teams from the area competed in this year’s ‘Final Four’ event and although none were able to pick up a state title in 2021 they represented southwest Missouri well.
In Class 2 play the Thomas Jefferson Cavaliers placed second and the Branson Pirates fourth while the Bolivar Liberators, in Class 1, finished third.
Chalking up state titles this year were: Class 1- Barstow, Class 2- Priory and Class 3- John Burroughs.
Priory 5 – Thomas Jefferson 0
Thomas Jefferson put up a great effort against this year’s Class 2 state champion Priory but in the end it just wasn’t their day as they fell to the Ravens 5-0 in the tournament final.
But while coming up one match shy of a state championship was disappointing for the Cavaliers it in no way dampened their spirits. Despite the loss Thomas Jefferson has enjoyed an exceptional year of tennis.
“There was no loser today. As long as your kids come out and compete hard that’s all you can ask of them,” said Cavalier head coach Tommy Brumfield. “And that’s exactly what they did today. They put it all out there, competed on every point and made Priory earn the victory. I’m really proud of their effort. And despite the loss our kids have enjoyed an exceptional year of tennis, something for which we can all be proud.”
“We have had a great season,” said senior Noah Hamlett. “And even though we lost today I’m really proud of what my teammates and I have been able to accomplish this year.”
The loss to Priory marked the first defeat of the season for the Cavaliers who entered the Class 2 title match with a perfect 15-0 record.
Ian Ding, who finished fourth last week in the MSHSAA’s singles state tournament, summed up the Cavaliers season this way.
“It’s been a great ride for us this year and even though we didn’t finish the season the way we wanted it’s been a real pleasure for me to play with such a great bunch of guys,” said Ding. “I’m just glad we made it this far.”
Taking the court for Thomas Jefferson in the state final were: 1. Ian Ding, 2. Noah Hamlett, 3. Tyler Brouhard, 4. Christopher Wheelen, 5. Hari Nagarajan and 6. Prithvi Nagarajan.
Ladue Horton Watkins 5 – Branson 0
Following a 5-0 loss to the Ladue Horton Watkins Rams the Branson Pirates finished out their effort for a Class 2 state title with a fourth place finish.
Although saddled with the loss Branson head coach Sean Kembell said he was extremely proud of his kids overall effort and that the state tournament put the finishing touches on what has been a very magical season for the Pirates.
“It has been a magical season for our kids, it’s been a season of firsts,” said Kembell. “It’s the first time we’ve ever won district, the first time we’ve ever won sectionals and the first time we’ve ever qualified somebody to participate in the individual state tournament. Having the opportunity to participate in this week’s state team tournament, as one of the Class 1 top four teams in the state, has just been icing on the cake.”
But getting to the Final Four’s big dance has required more than just a little magic.
“These kids are special. They’re a really tight bunch of kids, they love to play tennis and they all bought in to our system,” said Kembell. “But they also work hard, have a lot of fun and because of their effort this year our season has been filled with pure joy and success.”
With the loss to Ladue, the Pirates closed out the 2021 season at 14-5-1.
Participating in this year’s state tournament for the Pirates were: 1. Gavin Brown, 2. Nate Bartram, 3. Hayes Stark, 4. Garrett Beckham, 5. Caleb Buxtom and 6. Jacob Dexter.
Bolivar 5 – Clayton 4
In Class 1 action the Bolivar Liberators, in a thriller, edged the Clayton Greyhounds 5-4 to grab third place honors at the state tournament.
“It was really exciting and it didn’t feel like we were playing for third place at all,” said Bolivar head coach Nathan Rothdiener. “It felt like we were playing for the championship.”
With the score tied at 4-4, and a large crowd gathered around to witness the outcome, Bolivar’s fate was left in the hands of Trevor Dickenson as the two teams squared off in the final match of the day.
But, after splitting the first two sets 6-4 & 3-6, Dickenson held on to grab the third and final set 6-4 to give the Liberators the victory and a third place finish in the state tournament.
“We had a lot of close games today but fortunately, for us, we came out on top more often than Clayton did,” said Rothdiener. “But it all came down to our number two man Trevor Dickenson, who was really cool in the clutch, for us to get us the win.”
But even cool in the clutch players can feel the pressure.
“When I saw our other matches slowly finish out I knew it was going to be up to me if we were going to get the win. Realizing that began to make me a little nervous,” said Dickenson. “But I was able to pull myself together to make it happen. Finishing third in the state tournament is a big deal to us.”
“Trevor has missed a lot of our season this year,” said Rothdiener. “So for him to be able to come back and win a crucial match for us to get the victory was awesome.”
“Finishing third in the state tournament is a big deal to us and we’ll all be going back to Bolivar ecstatic today,” he said. “It was a big win and I’m so proud of all of our kids for hanging in there to get it.”
The Liberators ended the 2021 season at 17-2.
Participating for Bolivar at this year’s state tournament were: 1. Emery Smashey, 2. Trevor Dickenson, 3. Nathan Martin, 4. Aidan Mauck, 5. Seth Martin, 6. Nathan McLellan, 7. Josh Bowes and 8. Kyle Pock (Unavailable Saturday)