Osage boys tennis tops Salem for first team district title since 2016

Michael Losch
Lake Sun Leader
The Osage boys tennis team celebrates a district championship win over Salem on May 11 in Osage Beach.

As School of the Osage set out Tuesday afternoon in pursuit of a district championship on the home courts- the first opportunity in two years to do so since the COVID-19 pandemic cancelled the 2020 season- a familiar face was on the sidelines to watch his former teammates.

Logan Havner, a 2020 graduate who did not have the opportunity to enjoy his final high school season due to the pandemic, was present to witness the action. And, although the pandemic prevented the opportunity to create some final lasting memories on the courts as a senior, his old program could give him some reason to smile on Tuesday after they captured a district championship with a 5-2 win over Salem.

Read More:Senior Salute: Osage's Logan Havner

“Logan was here watching us today and he was going to be our number one (player). I think he was really happy for us, but I’m happy for this group,” said Osage coach John Baumstark who took over the program when the pandemic hit and is getting to lead his program on the courts for the first time this spring. “Not being able to play last year and this year with all the COVID regulations at the beginning of the year, I’m just really proud of these guys and this group of guys are really close with each other.” 

Read More:Coming Back From COVID-19: Osage boys tennis eager to return to the courts after long absence

The district title was the program’s first since 2016 when the program had won four straight and five titles in six years. But, Baumstark and his players were not expecting things to be easy against a Salem team they had only beat 5-4 just over a week earlier. 

“We’ve had a lot of adversity this year playing some really good teams and we’ve grown a lot. I feel like that really helped us today with a good Salem team,” the coach noted as his program faced Salem players for the third time in a week, including the regular season and individual districts. “There was nothing to shock anybody today and we came out and played really well.”

The Osage boys tennis team celebrates a district championship after beating Salem in the finals on May 11 in Osage Beach.

The final score may not indicate it, but that adversity was present on Tuesday as well when the Indians trailed 2-1 after the trio of doubles matches concluded. Needing to win at least four of the singles matches to capture the title, that is precisely what the home team did to erase any doubt. The best part may be that Baumstark opted to go with players down the lineup, ranked two through five, instead of relying upon his top player Drew Elley to get a win at the top of the lineup. In fact, Elley did not have to play a singles match because his teammates took care of business.

“Whenever Drew, our number one, doesn’t even get a chance to play because the guys below him did their jobs, that feels really good because that means those younger guys and lower-ranked guys played really well,” Baumstark pointed out. 

If anything, winning key matches in a district championship setting may build confidence, too, and make the program stronger in the years to come.

“Drew is going to be Drew and show up every match,” Baumstark said of  the senior. “When you get guys that come and consistent, they get that confidence now. Those lower guys have won a match and they’ve done it throughout the year, too, but now on a bigger stage like this- for them to put down their foot and say, ‘Hey, we are going to go win this for you guys,’ that showed a lot of heart and grit from our guys.” 

In individual districts on the home courts last Friday, Osage managed to get five of its six players through to sectionals as Elley won an individual district title in singles play while the doubles team of Mark Pankiv and Vladimir Nahapetyan captured a district title and both Chris Boyd and Brayden Vickers got through by making the finals. Ethan Kucsik just missed out on making it through in singles play as well, losing a tiebreaker, but now his season also continues since the program took care of business in the team portion on Tuesday. 

“We would have loved to have him come with us and I’m sure he would have liked to come with us, too, but now we need him for the team sectional now, too,” Baumstark said. “That is kind of the cool thing about tennis- you can have one guy go on by himself, but at some point if you keep winning your team you play with all year is going to come in and help you out. It is pretty neat how we can bring all those guys up for team sectionals.” 

And winning in the postseason is one thing, but being able to do so in front of a home crowd is another and Baumstark said his players certainly felt that support. Before individual districts on Friday, the coach sent out an email to teachers inviting students to come out and support the team and that invitation was accepted. 

“We had to educate them how tennis was not like basketball or football- you couldn’t cheer a bunch- but they (players) kind of fed off that. We usually don’t have a crowd so seeing their classmates out there supporting them gave them some momentum,” the coach noted. 

That Friday was the last day for seniors, so there was not quite as many students out on Tuesday to watch the action, but that support was still felt. Overall, the two days simply presented a fun atmosphere the program would like to recapture down the road. 

“I think it showed some school pride. Ninety percent of these people have probably never seen a tennis match or know what is going on, but they see a classmate out there wearing ‘Osage tennis’ (T-shirts) so it gave us pride playing in front of people,” Baumstark continued. “For people to actually get to watch what they do, maybe it will turn some people on to wanting to play tennis, now that they’ve seen a match.”

As an athlete himself, Baumstark had the privilege of winning a basketball or football district championship every year of his high school career and now he gets to add tennis to the mix as a coach. 

“My wife kind of joked around with me because I was very lucky to have won a district championship in high school every year. She goes, ‘How does it feel to finally get it in your hands again,’” the coach remarked. “ I go, ‘Well it has been a long eight years,’ so, it feels really good to get it. 

“Especially for the kids, they do the work and I’m kind of just there giving them motivation. They are the real ones who went and got it, so I’m happy for them.” 

Now, in individual singles and doubles play and as a team, Osage will have a shot to go qualify for the state tournament in all three. It begins on Saturday in Cape Girardeau at Notre Dame High School where the Indians will play in individual sectionals at 10 a.m. The team will also have to travel there for the team portion of sectionals on Monday. 

“We are having to travel four hours to play so we are going to probably play somebody who has never heard about us and we’ve never heard about them or seen them play,” Baumstark pointed out. “It is kind of going to be a toss-up. Using the momentum we’ve had these last two weeks will help us carry that momentum on. 

“They are one game away from being in the state tournament and I think that is what these kids dream about in any sport,” he continued. “They are excited about it, too, because sectionals is just one game. You play one game and you are there, so it is going to come up pretty quick... We are excited to see what happens.”

Michael Losch is the Sports Editor at the Lake Sun. He can be reached at mlosch@lakesunonline.com or 573-346-2132