No luck needed: Grain Valley tennis continues roll with tourney title, win over Blue Springs

Bill Althaus
The Examiner

Chelsea Gorden walked to the bleachers where many of her teammates were sitting during a Monday afternoon tennis match at Baumgardner Park in Blue Springs. 

She had just won a No. 2 singles match 8-1 and earlier had teamed with Finley LaForge for an 8-1 No. 2 doubles win, which paved the way to Grain Valley's 9-0 sweep of the host Blue Springs Wildcats. 

As she joined her teammates, she extended her hand to show a freshly picked four-leaf clover. 

"How did you find that?" asked a surprised Bailey Jinkens. 

Emma Thiessen looked up and simply said, "She's Chelsea Gorden." 

Thiessen then took a photo of the lucky clover to place on the Eagles Twitter page, which has been the source of some lofty Eagles accomplishments over the past few days. 

Friday, with Thiessen winning the B Flight singles championship and the Eagles finishing second in A Flight doubles, third in B Flight doubles and fifth in A Flight singles, Grain Valley won its first full-bracket Barstow Invitational title. 

Chelsea Gorden poses for Grain Valley High tennis teammate Emma Thiessen after finding a four-leaf clover at Baumgardner Park in Blue Springs. Gorden and her teammates didn't need any extra luck as they swept Blue Springs 9-0, with Gorden winning 8-1 at No. 2 singles and Thiessen winning 8-0 at No. 4 singles. The Eagles improved to 5-1.

Draper’s squad edged Barstow 22-21, followed by Blue Springs South and Lee’s Summit (18 each), St. Joseph Central (11), Raymore-Peculiar (3), Blue Springs (2) and Marshall (1). 

"I don't ever recall us winning the Barstow Tournament, and that was a big deal – a real big deal," Eagles coach Randy Draper said as Gorden smiled and nodded in the background. 

"I've never seen Coach Draper with that big of a smile on his face," Gorden said. "It was a great day for all of us. We love it when he has something to smile about after we play." 

And it got even more special for Gorden once she arrived at the Grain Valley football game that night, where she had organized a "Knock Out Cancer" fundraiser that brought in a stunning $1,600. 

"I had no idea what to expect," said Gorden, the lone senior for the Eagles. "We did a small presentation during lunch one day and raised $26, so I thought if we raised $150 or $200 it would be great. 

"When we counted the money – at the game, behind the concession stand – we had $1,600 and I couldn't believe it.

Members of the Grain Valley High School tennis team have reason to smile after winning their first-ever team championship at the prestigious Barstow Tournament Friday and blanking Blue Springs 9-0 Monday afternoon. Members of the 5-1 Eagles are, from left, Bailey Jinkens, Brooklyn Spencer, Emma Thiessen, Chelsea Gorden, Kylee Bragaw and Finley LaForge.

"I'll be honest with you, I worked hard to make this happen and I have never been as proud of our community or our students as I was Friday night when we collected more money than I ever dreamed of!" 

While the Eagles had the weekend to think about their big win at Barstow, Draper was a bit concerned they might come out flat Monday, facing a young but enthusiastic Wildcats team. 

"We had a little practice before we came over here today," Draper said after his team improved to 5-1, "and just watching them hit the ball around I knew I didn't have a thing to worry about." 

LaForge won No. 1 singles 8-6 over Molly Hocker; Kylee Bragaw won No. 3 singles over Jasmine Samuels 8-1; Thiessen blanked Fae Knudsen 8-0; Jinkens swept past Grace Deaton 8-0; and Brooklyn Spencer topped Sydney Smith 8-0. 

Kameryn Bush lost the No. 2 singles match to Gorden. 

LaForge and Gorden won No. 1 doubles 8-1; Bragaw and Thiessen won No. 2 doubles 8-0; and Jinkens and Spencer won No. 3 doubles 8-0. 

"As much as we want to win for ourselves and Coach Draper, we want to win for Chelsea, too," Laforge said of her doubles partner. "She's the mother hen of the team, the player who looks out for all of us. We love her and she loves us and we want her last year on the team to be one to remember." 

After her photographic duties were over, with Gorden and her four-leaf clover, Thiessen talked about the big wins at Barstow and Blue Springs. 

"It's been unbelievable and unbelievably fun," said Thiessen, who won three singles matches to take the championship of the B Flight. "I've never seen Coach Draper with a bigger smile and it was so special for all of us. And I knew we were going to be fired up to play Blue Springs today. 

"We're all having so much fun, none of us ever want this season to end." 

Despite the loss, first year Wildcats head coach Jessica Sanders was proud of her team. 

"I have girls who played novice who are now playing varsity, and while the score might not indicate it, we are improving every match," Sanders said. "My favorite part of coaching this season is watching the girls improve every day – at practice and at matches. I'm so proud of them."