NORTH KANSAS CITY, Mo. — All eyes were locked on the center court of the Northland Racquet Club.When the competitors met at the net for the customary post-match handshake, Park Hill’s players erupted in celebration Thursday, May 14 after avenging a recent loss to a rival and claiming a 5-3 victory in the Class 2 District 15 championship dual.
The Trojans earned a spot in the playoffs for the third time in four seasons by dispatching Park Hill South, which won the Suburban Conference Red Division matchup between the two teams 7-2 just more than a week earlier.
“Our guys are so excited,” Park Hill coach Rustin Reys said. “They’ve been looking forward to this since we lost to them last week. In some sense, it wasn’t difficult at all (to come back a day later). This is the match of the year. It was our Super Bowl. We were able to come out on top.”
The matches deciding the team berth were put on hold just after the completion of the doubles portion of the match, which were held a day earlier at Park Hill South High School in Riverside, Mo. Rain forced the postponement of the singles with Park Hill South ahead 2-1.
After the overnight delay, Park Hill jumped out to a 4-2 advantage with straight-set wins in the No. 4, No 5 and No. 6 singles spots. Josh Robaska, a senior, kept Park Hill South alive with a 5-7, 7-6, 6-3 win at No. 1 singles. That left only the match at No. 2 singles between Park Hill’s Jake McFee for Park Hill South’s JD Nassab on court.
McFee opened with a 6-2 win in the first set and took a 4-3 lead in the second before Nassab won three straight games to force the deciding set. McFee regained the momentum, going up 3-0, before cruising to a 6-3 win in the third set.
A return shot from Nassab sailed long into the back curtain for the deciding point, sending McFee’s teammates into the celebratory frenzy.
“It was total relief,” McFee said. “That’s what I’ve been waiting for, for a long time. I wanted to win a big match. It hasn’t been the best season. I really came through.”
McFee’s big win at No. 2 singles earned him the No. 2 seed in the Class 2 District 15 individual tournament held Saturday, May 16 at Barry Park in Kansas City, Mo. He cruised through the bracket, defeating William Chrisman’s Nicholas Hurt 6-4, 6-0.
Both players advanced to sectional play, but with a No. 1 seed this time, McFee lost in his matchup with Liberty North’s Rob Trout on Tuesday, May 19 at Barry Park.
The sophomore tried to become the first Trojans player to earn a spot in the state singles tournament in Springfield, Mo. since Michael Jones in 2012.
Henry Eckhold and Noah Higgins-Dunn also advanced to sectionals for Park Hill after finishing second in the district doubles bracket. The duo won in straight sets against Park Hill South’s No. 2 doubles team of Mark Fricke and Bryan Day in the semifinals to cement their spot in the postseason. Eckhold and Higgins-Dunn also fell in sectional play dropping a three-set match to Liberty’s No. 1 team of Griffin Turnage and TJ Stansbury.
Robaska and Nassab claimed the championship 6-3, 6-4 over Eckhold and Higgins-Dunn in the duos’ fourth matchup of the year — all wins for the Panthers’ top two players.
“It feels incredible,” Nassab said. “I’ve been waiting for this moment since my freshman year. It’s great to finally see that we made it. It feels really incredible to accomplish such a great feat.”
Nassab and Robaska went on to earn a spot in the Class 2 State Tennis Championships’ doubles draw with a 6-2, 7-6 (4) win against the St. Joseph Central team of Van Hopkins and Alex Fangman. The win avenged a 10-8 loss suffered in the championship match of the Suburban Conference Northland Tournament earlier this month.
Ryan Moise, Park Hill’s No 6 singles player finished third in the individual district tournament. The Trojans will face Liberty in the team sectional at 9 a.m. on Saturday, May 23 at Minor Park in Kansas City, Mo. The winner advances to the quarterfinals later in the day.
Class 2 District 16
Platte County’s Parker Ward avenged a pair of earlier losses to come one match from qualifying for the sectional round. The senior ace nearly recorded the best individual finish in the program’s short history but lost in the semifinals of the individual tournament Saturday, May 16 at Noyes Tennis Complex in St. Joseph, Mo. against eventual champion Elliott Wiskirchen of Liberty North.
To reach the semifinals, Ward came back to win a 6-2, 6-4 win against Kearney’s Jake Cole in the quaterfinals. Ward came back and won the third-place match against Liberty’s Aaron Burson after the loss to Wiskirchen.
“I was really proud of the way Parker bounced back in that third-place match,” Platte County coach Zach Keith said. “He fought his heart out against Wiskirchen and literally left it all out on the court. To have to bounce back and play for third after such a tough match shows the type of competitor Parker is on the court.”