Grain Valley tennis players relish first team state trophy

Bill Althaus
The Examiner
Grain Valley tennis players pose with the Class 2 fourth-place state trophy after their first appearance in the state final four in Springfield Saturday.

After his Eagles earned their first-ever appearance as a team at the Class 2 state final four, coach Randy Draper smiled, took a long swig of his drink of preference, Mountain Dew, and cackled like only he can cackle. 

It happened after Emma Thiessen won her No. 4 singles match 6-0, 6-0 against Carl Junction, to help the Eagles sweep the Bulldogs 5-0, punching their ticket to the state semifinals in Springfield. 

"We won three tournaments this season that we have never won before," said Draper, who has created one of the premier Class 2 programs in the state, "and I thought to myself, 'Nothing this team does surprises me.' 

"So, when we brought back our first-ever state trophy, I wasn't really surprised. But I sure was happy. And so were our girls." 

At state, Chelsea Gorden and Finley LaForge finished sixth in doubles play to earn their second consecutive all-state medals and the Eagles brought home the fourth-place trophy to add to the significant amount of tennis hardware in the school's trophy case. 

Thiessen won a marathon 2-hour, 35-minute singles match in the district final against St. Pius X to help the Eagles claim a 5-4 come-from-behind win and advance to that Class 2 state quarterfinals against Carl Junction. 

"It's been a big season for Emma, and for all our players,” Draper said. “And we only lose two of them, Chelsea and Bailey (Jinkens). So we have the chance to be pretty good for a few more seasons." 

The Eagles fell 5-1 to Ladue Horton Watkins in the semifinal. Kylee Bragaw and Thiessen combined for an 8-1 win at No. 2 doubles for Grain Valley’s lone win. 

In Saturday’s third-place match, the Eagles were stopped 5-2 by Parkway Central. After Parkway Central swept doubles, Thiessen topped Brenna McLain 6-1, 6-3 at No. 4 singles and freshman Brooklyn Spencer topped Evangelia Huff 6-2, 4-6, 10-4 at No. 6. Parkway Central, though, got the other two singles wins to seal the victory. 

It was an emotional state tournament for Gorden, as she said goodbye to Draper and her teammates. 

"I wanted to cry, even though I was thrilled we won fourth as a team and Finley and I medaled for the second year in a row," Gorden said. "I'm not going to play tennis in college, so this is it for me. 

"I can't believe I'm not going to be playing for Coach Draper and playing doubles with Finley next year, I love her so much. It's been a great four years and they went by too quickly."