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BOYS TENNIS: Thomas Jefferson advances to state title match with win over Branson

By:
Jason Peake

SPRINGFIELD, Mo.  — A true grand finale awaits for the Thomas Jefferson Cavaliers.

Thomas Jefferson advanced to the championship match of the MSHSAA Class 2 State Tennis Tournament by earning a 5-2 win over Branson in the semifinals on Friday at the Cooper Tennis Complex.

Thomas Jefferson senior Noah Hamlett hits a forehand during Friday’s match with Branson at Cooper Tennis Complex in Springfield.

“This feels great,” Thomas Jefferson senior Noah Hamlett said. “We were fourth a couple of years ago in Class 1, and it’s definitely even sweeter that we’re playing for the championship in Class 2 this year. It just feels great. This season has been really fun. It’s been the most fun I’ve had on any team of any season the past few years. This has been the most memorable season. Everybody’s having a great time.” 

Thomas  Jefferson kept its record unblemished with the win over the Pirates, improving to 15-0. Of course, the Cavaliers accomplished much more than that with Friday’s historic win. 

The Cavaliers will meet Priory (11-1) at noon on Saturday in the state title match, where they’ll conclude the 2021 spring season with the ultimate prize up for grabs. 

“This is a great feeling,” Thomas Jefferson coach Tom Brumfield said. “This is a big step for us getting to the championship. These were tough conditions out here today. There were some wild points because of the wind. Our kids just did a great job. And Branson did a great job of keeping balls in play. It was tough. They made us earn it.”

The first team to five wins advanced on a chilly and breezy afternoon, and the Cavaliers won all three doubles matches to start the dual on a positive note. And all three doubles matches were extremely close. 

Thomas Jefferson’s Hamlett and Tyler Brouhard edged Branson’s Gavin Brown-Nathan Bartram 8-6. The match could have gone either way, but the Cavaliers got it done. 

“It was just concentration,” Hamlett said. “I think we were a little unfocused at the start of that match. But at the end, we were able to hunker down, make the shots we needed to make and pull through.” 

In two other back and forth clashes, TJ’s Ian Ding and Hari Nagarajan defeated William Stark-Caleb Buxton 8-6, while Christopher Wheelen-Prithvi Nagarajan edged Garrett Beckham-Jacob Decker 9-7.

With the doubles wins, the Cavaliers needed just two wins in singles to secure the dual victory. 

“Doubles always sets the tone,” Brumfield said. “We always say it. You’ve gotta win those doubles matches if you want a chance at the end. That’s what did it for us today.”

A junior who placed fourth in singles at last week’s individual state tourney, Ding defeated Brown 6-0, 6-3 to get the Cavs win No. 4 of the day. 

TJ’s Hari Nagarajan hits a volley at the net against Branson. All photos by Jason Peake.

Branson’s Beckham defeated Wheelen 7-5, 6-3 and Buxton earned a 6-5, 6-2 win over Hari Nagarajan to give the Pirates a pair of wins. 

But Hamlett beat Bartram 6-3, 7-6 (3) to clinch the dual victory for the Cavaliers. 

The other two singles matches weren’t completed. 

Now, the Cavaliers will look to secure their first team championship since 2007.

Priory defeated Ladue 5-4 in the other semifinal and the Ravens from St. Louis had the state champs in both singles and doubles at last week’s individual state tourney. 

“We’ve just got to come out and play tomorrow,” Brumfield said. “We know what we’re facing…they’re good. But first or second…there’s no loser tomorrow. We’ll play our best and we’ll see what happens.”

Hamlett echoed those same sentiments. 

“We just have to have a positive mindset tomorrow,” Hamlett said. “We have to concentrate and have a fun time because it’s our last match.”

For Hamlett, one final match remains in not only his season, but also his prep career. 

“I’m pretty tired right now, but I’ll go home, recuperate tonight and I’ll definitely be ready for tomorrow,” he said. 

 

Thomas Jefferson’s Ian Ding lines up a shot during Friday’s match against Branson at the Cooper Tennis Complex.

 

Thomas Jefferson’s Christopher Wheelen hits a volley near the net during doubles action on Friday against Branson.

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