by Michael Smith
The Grain Valley girls tennis team is starting to establish itself as a tennis powerhouse.
Last season, the Eagles won their first district championship since 2016 and made it to the Class 2 state final four and took fourth place.
This year, Grain Valley will have a chance to repeat the same success it has last season as it cruised to a 5-0 victory over William Chrisman in the Class 2 District 7 championship Wednesday at home.
“Grain Valley is starting to be known as a tennis school and I think that’s great,” junior Finley LaForge said.
The Eagles will take on Springfield Glendale next Monday at home in the Class 2 state quarterfinals.
“This is a fun group,” Draper said. “They are good kids and are good players.”
LaForge was a big part of the victory as she teamed with Kylee Bragaw in the No. 1 doubles match to defeat the team of Mazzy Whitesell and Autumn Smith 8-1. The junior then went on to dominate her No. 1 singles match 6-0, 6-0 against Whitesell.
“She really drove the ball I thought and attacked it,” Draper said of LaForge. “She was good. That was about as good as she’s played. She was clean and aggressive.”
Throughout the match, LaForge hit high-velocity shots that barely cleared the net which made is difficult for Whitesell to return them.
“I really just focus on snapping my wrist and they barely go over the net,” LaForge said. “I work on that a lot.
“I felt really happy with the way I played today. I felt like I couldn’t have done anything much different.”
It also helped Grain Valley’s cause that No. 4 singles player Emma Thiessen was able to return to the team two weeks ago after being out for much of the season with an injury. She teamed with Brooklyn Spencer in the No. 2 doubles match to take down Jenny DeWick and Erin Magel 8-0.
“We always thought we were going to get her back and we did,” Draper said of Thiessen returning from injury. “It came at a great time for us. She is really good. She was a state qualifier last year.”
Before Wednesday, Spencer and Thiessen had just played five doubles matches together, but it didn’t take long for them to develop chemistry.
“I love it,” Spencer said of her chemistry with Thiessen. “I think it’s amazing. I played with Cate throughout the whole season. Then Emma came back and she’s so supportive.”
Spencer won the deciding match for the Eagles in the No. 3 singles competition as she defeated DeWick 6-1, 6-1.
“I thought I deserved to win because yesterday during singles, I won the first set and I was up 5-0 in the second set,” Spencer said. “But then Emma won her match, so I didn’t get to finish. I thought I really wanted to get this one for myself.”
At No. 3 doubles Cate Barnes and Ava Lin won over Arianna Baughman and Karis Ramel 8-0. In singles, Thieseen, Lin and Barnes were all winning their singles matches until Spencer ended the Eagles’ afternoon with her win.
From left, Ava Lin, Brooklyn Spencer, Finley LaForge, Kylee Bragaw, Emma Thiessen and Cate Barnes pose for a photo following a 5-0 win over William Chrisman in the Class 2 District 7 championship match. Photo credit: Michael Smith