With the way Randy Draper’s Grain Valley boys tennis team began the season, a Suburban Small Seven conference title didn’t seem likely.
At least that’s what the veteran coach thought at the time.
After a slow start in which the Eagles started 1-9 in duals, they rattled off five wins in a row, with four coming in conference play.
The most important one came against Platte County Wednesday. Grain Valley clinched the outright conference title in its first year in the Small Seven with a 7-2 win at home.
Before this season, the Eagles won three straight Missouri River Valley Conference West titles, but this one might have been the sweetest because it was in a new league.
“I thought this was really big for this team, especially the way we started the year, we didn’t necessarily see this coming,” Draper said. “We have gotten better.”
No. 5 singles player Bryson Martin echoed those sentiments.
“We have a bunch of new kids playing varsity,” Martin said. “We’ve gotten a lot better since the beginning of the season and you can tell. At practices and matches, everyone’s gotten better.”
Added No. 2 singles player Dean Mobley: “We want to set a precedent in this conference. We won three in a row in our last conference and we want to do the same thing here.”
A big part of Grain Valley’s resurgence has been the No. 2 doubles team of Mobley and Martin, who won 8-4; and the No. 3 duo of Triston Whitton and Jesse Arnold, who won 8-5.
“Our (No.) 2 and 3 doubles teams have really helped us,” Draper said. “Bryson Martin has been big. Arnold and Whitton have given us a big boost. There’s a lot of things to be happy about with this group.”
Whitton said he and Arnold were able to win despite not playing up to their standards.
“In the doubles match, we started out really bad,” Whitton said. “It was close, but we should have won by a lot more. We were just hitting the net a lot and getting a bunch of errors.”
Mobley and Martin, who became a team midway through the season, showed strong chemistry in their win.
“We hit a lot together at practice and we just meshed really well,” Martin said. “We just keep a high energy. We never stay down even when we lose points.”
In singles play, No. 6 Brady Slater clinched the Small Seven championship with a 10-8 win in which he overcame an 8-4 deficit.
“I just stayed positive and kept doing what I have been doing all year,” Slater said. “I’ve just stayed consistent and never give up.”
No. 2 Mobley (10-4), No. 3 Trent Tarrants (11-9), No. 4 Martin (10-3) and No. 5 Whitton (10-2) also won in singles to help Grain Valley finish undefeated in conference play.
“Since the beginning of the season, I’ve had a lot of top spin on my forehand, and that’s done me very well,” Mobley said. “But my backhand and my serve were subpar and I have put in a lot of work in improving those. My serve wasn’t exactly where I wanted it to be, but I at least got it in so I gave myself a chance to play.”