The competitive emotions spilled out for Zack Regan and Spencer Kunz during the final contentious points of a doubles match that went to a tiebreaker.
About an hour earlier, Platte County’s No. 1 doubles team displayed the same biting sarcasm and enveloped celebrations while standing outside the fence Thursday, March 31 at Winnetonka High School, cheering on two first-year varsity sophomores. That dedication remains indicative of a program started from nothing that still doesn’t have a home and seemingly seeks to earn respect in each match.
“We play with a little bit of an edge, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing,” said Anna Nutt, longtime Platte County assistant serving her first stint as head coach while Zach Keith takes an undetermined hiatus.
A program still in many ways enduring the growing pains of infancy, Platte County remains consistently competitive but still seeks its first Suburban Conference Blue Division title, a chase that took a hit with a 6-3 loss to Winnetonka after the Griffins swept doubles. Only once have the Pirates advanced an individual to the Missouri State Tennis Championships when Aaron Stout and Ethan Savage qualified back in 2010 during the team’s brief stint in Class 1.
Yet, the program’s competitive streak seems to stay consistent throughout the years — a trait developed under Keith, a former standout player at Northwest Missouri State University, and Nutt, who started an intramural tennis program long before the high school needed to add the sport after joining the Suburban Conference.
“Supporting one another is something Keith stressed last year and that Nutt is saying again this year,” said Regan, a senior who played limited varsity last season before moving up to No. 3 singles this year while teaming with Kunz at No. 1 doubles. “In our pregame chant, we have, 'Come to fight,' and that’s really what we’re like.”
Opponents generally have more dedicated tennis players and often more talent than Platte County, but that doesn’t stop the Pirates from being competitive in nearly every competition on their schedule.
Against Winnetonka, Regan romped to a quick 10-2 win in No. 3 singles, and Kunz fought back from a 4-1 deficit against Collin Monsees in the No. 1 match. Monsees, an All-Blue Division performer a year ago, complained of wrist troubles as Kunz — a dedicated musician and actor when he’s not on the tennis court — completed an 11-10 (9-7) comeback victory, all the while checking on his opponent’s injury status in a seemingly sporting gesture that doubled as obvious gamesmanship.
Regan and Kunz then led the cheers as No. 5 player Spencer Klopfer and No. 6 Noah Singer battled to help earn a split of the singles at 3-3.
“They support each other. They do it in practice, and obviously, you saw it in matches,” Nutt said. “I’m proud of the way we compete. We’re going to win some and lose some, but their best effort is all you can ask.”
Platte County’s lineup often consists of perceived equals, and this year is no different.
Andy Day, a senior, owns the most varsity experience and plays at No. 4, while Kunz moved up to assume the difficult task of playing at No. 1 in his second year in the top six. Regan sits just behind a fellow senior Josh Timmons, who moved up from junior varsity all the way to the No. 2 spot in the course of just one season.
Hard work pays off in practices often separated between two dilapidated courts set for demolition behind Paxton Elementary and the rented facility in the Seven Bridges subdivision located across town.
“Spencer’s told me hustle wins games so that’s what I build my strategy off of. I try to work as hard as I can,” Timmons said. “If you want a high spot, you have to work for it. It’s not just given to you.”
Platte County’s season already hit all of the extremes.
In the opener, the Pirates beat Oak Park 9-0 before losing 9-0 days later to powerhouse Liberty North. Then came a pair of duals that went down to the final matches — a 5-4 win against defending Blue Division champion Kearney and the 6-3 loss to Winnetonka.
Kunz and Regan came back from a 6-3 deficit to force a tiebreaker against Chris Fraizer and Monsees, who apparently healed his wrist during the brief break between singles and doubles.
After a few fairly heated debates on rules interpretations, Winnetonka’s No. 1 team won 11-10 (7-5).
Day and Timmons and Klopfer and Singer also saw late rallies come up short as the dual slipped away from Platte County. The Pirates improved to 3-2 (2-1 Blue Division) with a win against Grandview on Monday with results of a Tuesday trip to North Kansas City not available at The Citizen’s deadline.
Opportunity still exists for the season, and players like Kunz, Day and Regan who fought through last season know the ups and downs. The Pirates beat Winnetonka early in the schedule but settled for a season split and wound up third in the final conference standings.
The return dates with Kearney and Winnetonka will be back-to-back in late April, and the players already have those on their mind.
“We’re always counted out,” Regan said. “No one really talks about Platte County, but we’re here to be competitive. We’re ready to start making names for ourselves.”
Competition, camaraderie and combativeness continue to fuel Platte County’s roving band of tennis misfits.
The Pirates just missed conference titles in 2011 and 2013 when Liberty North dominated the Blue Division. Platte County lost to the Eagles four times during a 16-4 campaign in 2013.
The goal remains to take a scrappy group that wins more than it loses to become a consistent program competing for district titles and state spots despite being one of the smallest schools in Class 2. That’s the reality, and the Pirates have never made excuses.
Platte County has never hosted a true home meet due to its lack of facilities.
Currently, construction is underway on a basic four-court facility paid through grants and donations. The earth being moved adjacent to Siegrist Elementary represents another new start with hope of an eight-court complex with basic amenities that would provide a place to build a permanent home.
Just don’t count on a step up in surroundings taking away the occasionally cantankerous spirit of the players any time soon.
“We’ve never been the best tennis players, by any means, but we’ve always been the scrappiest,” Regan said.
Platte County 5, Kearney 4
Klopfer and Singer pulled out the deciding victory in the Blue Division opener for the Pirates on Tuesday, March 29 in Kearney, Mo.
Tied at 4-4 with the last match still being played, Klopfer and Singer won 8-6 to clinch the win — the only doubles victory for the Pirates after leading 4-2 following single play. Klopfer (No. 5) and Singer (No. 6) also won singles matches.
Regan (No. 3) and Day (No. 4) were the other winners.
Park Hill 9, Blue Springs South 0
The Trojans improved to 6-0 with their first sweep of the season Monday, April 4 in Blue Springs, Mo.
Henry Eckold (No. 1) and Jake McFee (No. 2) scored much-needed victories in singles after a difficult start to their individual seasons, and Grant Martin won in a tiebreaker at No. 4 to keep Park Hill perfect. All three doubles victories were close, too with Eckhold and McFee winning 8-6 at No. 1.
Park Hill 6, Staley 3
The Trojans closed out a pattern for the week with the same four singles players and two doubles teams recording victories Thursday, March 31 in Kansas City, Mo.
Chandler To (No. 3), Martin (No. 4), Joel Lesher (No. 5) and Matt Zhang (No. 6) were all winners for a second straight nonconference dual, as were doubles teams Lesher/To (No. 2) and Zhang/Ryan Moise (No. 3).
Park Hill 6, Lee’s Summit 3
The Trojans put depth on display, winning the bottom four singles matches and bottom two doubles matches Wednesday, March 30 at Barry Park Tennis Complex.
To, Martin, Lesher and Zhang all won singles matches, while Lesher and To paired together for an 8-4 win at No. 2 doubles. Martin and Moise were 8-6 winners at No. 3 doubles.
Lee’s Summit 8, Park Hill South 1
The Panthers dropped to 1-1 on the season with a loss Monday, April 4 in Lee’s Summit, Mo. They were scheduled to play at Lee’s Summit West on Tuesday, April 5, but the result was not available at The Citizen’s deadline.
Joe Badaluco scored Park Hill South’s lone victory against Lee’s Summit at No. 4 singles, beating Alec O’Connor 10-6.