Eagles relish title, state berth

By Bill Althaus
Grain Valley doubles team partners Finley LaForge and Chelsea Gorden and singles player Kennedi McCord, from left, show off their medals after earning a berth at the Class 2 state tournament with top two finishes at Friday’s individual district tournament..

Grain Valley’s Chelsea Gorden and Finley LaForge had already earned a berth in the Class 2 state tournament.

But the duo was determined to leave Friday’s Class 2 District 7 individual tournament with a title.

Though they were blanked 6-0 in the first set in the championship match against Addison Vance and Sophia Ong of Notre Dame de Sion and trailed 5-2 to in the decisive third set, they never let up despite already having secured their spot at state with a semifinal win.

Gorden, a junior, and LaForge, a freshman, after a 6-1 win in the second set, got the third set tied 6-6 and then outlasted the Storm duo 11-9 in a tiebreaker to claim the district title.  

“My, oh my,” Eagles coach Randy Draper howled, “that doubles match was one you had to see to believe. After that first set, I talked to the girls and told them to relax, and go out and play the type of tennis we knew they could play – and they did.”

Gorden, despite nursing a foot injury, and LaForge dug down deep to overcome the deficit and win the dramatic tiebreaker.

“It was really more mental than physical,” Gorden said. “We didn’t play well in the first set and we knew it. Finley kept pumping me up – she’s so great! – and we came back and won the second set 6-1.

“My ankle and foot were really hurting ...”

LaForge politely interrupted and added, “Chelsea was crying and I said, ‘No!’ Come on, we’re going to win this.”’

Gorden chuckled, and continued.

“My foot hurt, but I wasn’t going to let it keep us from winning. We were down 2-5 in the third set, and we broke serve twice and took it to that crazy tiebreaker.”

LaForge said her confidence never wavered, even when they were down 5-2 late in the final set.

“We were strong, and we kept coming back,” LaForge said. “I have the best doubles partner in the world. She is so strong and she kept battling through that injury and when we won. I was so proud – proud of her and proud of both of us.

“Going to state is pretty cool.”

Kennedi McCord also earned a singles state berth with a semifinal win over Belton’s Julia Smith. She finished 2-1 when Warrensburg’s Jessica Snare edged her 7-6 (7-5), 6-2 in the championship match.

“Kennedi played a great match,” Draper said of the junior, who normally plays No. 3 singles for the Eagles. “Even though she lost, it was a thriller. She was down 2-5 in the first set and came to make it close before she lost that tiebreaker.”

McCord said she is going to state with one goal.

“To get a medal,” the junior said. “I don’t want to go and lose. Going to state is not my ultimate goal. Going to state and having success is my goal.”

WILDCAT EARNS FIRST STATE BERTH: Blue Springs senior Allie Brown claimed her first state berth, finishing second in singles in the Class 3 District 7 tournament Friday at Park Hill High School.

“It was unbelievable, especially going to state my senior year,” Brown said. “Now, I’m just waiting and hoping that it isn’t canceled and that my mom and dad can go watch me play.”

Brown advanced to state with a 6-2, 6-0 semifinal win over Annamarie Hotze of St. Teresa’s Academy before losing to Helen Hendricks of Pembroke Hill 6-0, 6-0 in the singles championship.

“I’ve been close to making state before, and it’s kind of funny that in a season with so many distractions and so many changes and cancellations that this would be the year I make state.

“Now, I just want to go, have fun and have success.”