Grain Valley tennis secures first team state final four berth by blanking Carl Junction

Bill Althaus
The Examiner
Grain Valley's Finley LaForge hits a forehand return in her No. 1 doubles match with partner Chelsea Gorden in a Class 2 state quarterfinal match against Carl Junction Tuesday. LaForge and Gorden won 8-1 and LaForge later won 6-2, 6-0 in No. 1 singles to help lift the Eagles to a 5-0 victory and their first state team final four berth.

Brooklyn Spencer walked to Court No. 4 at Grain Valley High School, turned to her teammates and quipped, "I don't believe it. Emma (Thiessen) actually played doubles and singles in an hour and a half." 

They all laughed and went out to congratulate Thiessen, whose 6-0, 6-0 singles win clinched the Grain Valley tennis team’s 5-0 victory over Carl Junction Tuesday. 

Last week, Thiessen won a marathon 2-hour, 35-minute singles match in the district final against St. Pius X to help the Eagles advance to the Class 2 state quarterfinal, with the winner going to the team state final four. 

"That's the first time we've been to state as a team," Eagles coach Randy Draper said as he visited with players and parents about hotel arrangements in Springfield for both the singles/doubles (Oct. 14-16) and team (Oct. 22-23) state tournaments. 

Grain Valley's Emma Thiessen hits a lob shot in her No. 2 doubles match with partner Kylee Bragaw in Tuesday's Class 2 state quarterfinal against Carl Junction. Thiessen and Bragaw won 8-0 and Thiessen later clinched the 5-0 win with a 6-0, 6-0 singles win as the Eagles advanced to next week's team state final four in Springfield.

Thiessen and individual district champion Kylee Bragaw are going to represent Grain in singles play beginning Thursday at the Cooper Tennis Complex, with Chelsea Gorden and Finley LaForge representing the Eagles in doubles play. 

Next week, every member of the Eagles will return to Springfield with Bailey Jinkens and Spencer joining their teammates in team competition. 

"Nothing this team does now surprises me," Draper said after the Eagles swept all three doubles matches and LaForge and Thiessen won their singles matches to claim the 5-0 win. "But I am surprised that Thiess was the winning singles match. I have to agree with Brooklyn – Thiess doesn't do anything in an hour and a half, let alone with a singles and doubles match – but I'm sure glad she picked today to do it." 

Grain Valley's Chelsea Gorden runs to hit a backhand return in her singles match in a Class 2 state quarterfinal against Carl Junction Tuesday. Gorden teamed with Finley LaForge for an 8-1 victory in No. 1 doubles but didn't complete her singles match before the Eagles had the necessary five wins to clinch a 5-0 victory and their first state team final four berth.

The Class 2 competition was scheduled for Monday but rain and wind forced the move to a Tuesday afternoon that was perfect for a clean sweep by the Eagles. 

"The weather was perfect and we were perfect too," said Gorden, a senior who is making her second straight state appearance in doubles with LaForge. "This was my last chance to go to state and it's so unbelievable to be going this week in doubles and next week as a team. 

"You can't get any better than that."

Grain Valley's Kylee Bragaw approaches the net in her No. 2 doubles match with Emma Thiessen, back, in Tuesday's Class 2 state quarterfinal against Carl Junction. Bragaw and Thiessen won 8-0 victory to help the Eagles to a 5-0 victory and their first state team final four berth.

LaForge, a sophomore, agreed. 

"I went last year with Chelsea and we're going again together this year – that was the plan, and we were able to get it done," LaForge said. "It's been a pretty amazing year." 

Gorden and LaForge won 8-1 in No. 1 doubles play. Thiessen and Bragaw won 8-0 at No. 2 doubles and Jinkens and Spencer won by the same score at No. 3 doubles. 

LaForge won 6-2, 6-0 at No. 1 singles, setting the stage for more heroics from Thiessen, who did not allow her opponent to win a single game in two sets. 

"I saw Finley walk off the court (after her No. 1 singles win) and knew I had the chance to get the fifth win," Thiessen said. “I was still playing my lob style of play, but I guess today I didn't lob them quite as high and my match over a lot quicker than last week.

Grain Valley's Kylee Bragaw smashes a forehand return in her singles match in a Class 2 state quarterfinal against Carl Junction Tuesday. Bragaw teamed with Emma Thiessen for an 8-0 victory in No. 2 doubles but didn't complete her singles match before the Eagles had the necessary five wins to clinch a 5-0 victory and their first state team final four berth.

"I just can't believe we're going to singles and doubles this week with Chelsea, Finley and Kylee and all the team is going back next week." 

When asked if the team should spend the week in Springfield, Thiessen cast a glance at Draper. 

He smiled, and nodded his head no. 

"This team, these girls, made this look easy today – and it is not easy!" Draper said. "We won four tournaments this year – three for the first time – and that surprised me. In fact, this team kept surprising me all year. But nothing surprised me about today. 

"They were focused and confident and ready to play, and it was fun to watch."