Joplin Eagles tennis team claims district title

May 9—The top-seeded Joplin Eagles tennis team continued its storybook season, winning the Class 3 District 5 title 5-1 over Kickapoo High School on Thursday at Joplin High School.

The title marks the first district championship for the Eagles since the 2019 team that went on to finish fourth at state.

The Eagles (15-1) took a 2-1 advantage into singles play and No. 6 singles player Oscar Kienzle became the man of the hour when he wrapped up the district title with a 4-6, 6-1 (10-3) tiebreaker win over Kickapoo's Hunter Maggard.

Kienzle's win highlighted what has been the Eagles' secret sauce all year — their depth.

Kienzle was aggressive at the net during the tiebreaker, squeezing Maggard on most volleys.

"Starting the first set, I wasn't as aggressive, which is why I lost the first set," Kienzle said. "The second set, I made sure I was more aggressive at the net because coach Perry (assistant coach Richard Perry) told me he (Maggard) was going to try and force something. It worked out."

He talked about his mindset going into his decisive match.

"I was aware that we needed one more game," Kienzle said. "I knew I had to lock in and get that 'W.' Thankfully, I came out and got the win."

Kienzle also talked about the cheers from his teammates that followed his win.

"It felt great," he said. "That's what I live for, honestly. What a great experience."

In earlier action, Joplin's Ben Converse and Taylor Schlag defeated Kickapoo's Jonathan Chou and Spencer Musil 8-2 in their No. 2 doubles match. The Joplin duo qualified for the state tournament last week after finishing second in their district doubles bracket and will represent the Eagles on May 16-18 at the Class 3 state championship doubles tourney in Springfield.

In the No. 3 doubles match, Kienzle and Josiah Hazelwood beat Kickapoo's Elijah Billue and Maggard.

Down as much as 5-2 in the No. 1 doubles match, Joplin's Adam Badr and Leif Garrity rallied to tie the match at 6-6, but eventually fell 6-8 to Kickapoo's Hart Hillman and Cody Chaffin.

Up 2-1 as a team after doubles play, the Eagles won their first two singles matches when Converse defeated Kickapoo's Chaffin 6-1, 6-1 in their No. 3 singles match and Schlag beat Billue in the No. 5 singles match 6-0, 6-1.

Those two singles wins gave Joplin a 4-1 team lead and set up Kienzle's late match heroics.

With Joplin already securing the five wins needed for the title with Kienzle's victory, play was stopped with Hazlewood leading Kickapoo's Musil 6-4, 3-4 in the No. 4 singles tilt. In the No. 2 singles match, Garrity was in the middle of a 4-6, 6-2 (1-0) tiebreaker against Chou at the cessation of play and Badr was attempting a 4-6 3-4 comeback against Hillman in the No. 1 singles match.

Head coach Aaron Stump talked about what the win means for the future of his team.

"This means we are building and we are going strong into next year, regardless of how the rest of this year goes," Stump said. "We're not losing any varsity guys so we look to have a really good season."

Stump also shared what he plans to tell his players heading into the state tournament.

"Keep playing exactly as they are because they are a great team," Stump said.

Joplin advances to face Rockhurst (8-3-1) on May 13 in the Class 3 sectional at a site yet to be determined. Rockhurst advanced to the sectional after winning the Class 3 District 6 title on Wednesday with a 5-2 win over Barstow.