The Regional Champion RHS varsity tennis team pose with their trophy. ~ Photo by Jeannie Gregory
HUDSONVILLE – The Rams surprised plenty of tennis fans at the MHSAA D1 Tennis Regional 1. The Rockford team had worked their way through their brackets with every player supporting the Rams' cause throughout the day. The Regional was the culmination of plenty of hard work from head coach Tom Huizing’s roster, and they represented well. The Semifinal Round proved to be the big tester on the day, with many of the Rams’ matches going to a third and deciding set and some of those were tie-breakers. With so many Rockford players claiming victories in the semis, six of the eight courts were filled with Rams in the Championship Round. When the dust settled, the Rams had four Champions crowned in the flights, two runners-up and the team had amassed 24 points to earn the Regional crown and advance to the MHSAA State Finals. It was the first time since 2001 that Ram tennis had earned a Regional title. East Kentwood and Hudsonville both tallied 19 points to advance as teams to the State Finals, and West Ottawa earned 16 points to round out the top four.
“This has been one of the most competitive Regional tournaments I’ve ever been a part of in my 20 years of coaching,” shares Huizing. “From the first-place team of this tournament all the way to the 10th team, it was competitive. There were first round matches we had to pull out in three sets, there were semifinal matches we had to pull out in three sets, there were finals matches we had to pull out in three sets, nothing came easy. Every single one of these guys contributed to this team’s success today.”
The No. 1 Singles flight featured the two top players in the region, Ram senior TJ Maskell against senior Noah Bachmann of Grand Haven. Maskell had steamrolled through his two matches after receiving a bye in the first round. He blanked Tieran Rafferty from Loy Norrix, and then rolled over Pierce Arangua of Hudsonville by 6-2, 6-4 scores to earn his way into the finals. The finals battle went to three sets, with Bachmann claiming the crown 4-6, 6-2, 6-1, to earn Maskell runner-up status in the top flight of the tournament.
In the No. 2 Singles flight, Will Vaneck received a bye in the first round and then topped players from West Ottawa and Grand Haven in Round 2 and the semis, respectively. Vaneck had an easy time of topping his opponent from Hudsvonville, Bret Bentley in the Championship Round. Vaneck claimed the match in straight sets, 6-2, 6-3 to earn the title in his flight.
In the No. 4 Singles flight, Rockford sophomore Sam Danner faced off against Grand Haven’s Ian Rant. In the semis, Danner had battled West Ottawa freshman phenom Traiden Bethke. He dropped the first set 5-7, but never got down and rallied in the next two sets 6-2, 6-4, to claim the match to advance to the Championship Round. Danner had an easy time of it in the finals, claiming the match 6-4, 6-0 to earn the title in the #4 flight.
The Rams had three double teams make it to the Championship Round.
The No. 2 Doubles team of senior Logan Lewandowski and sophomore Xander Werdon faced off against Aidan Lutz and Brandon Singer of East Kentwood in the finals. The Rockford Duo fell 3-6, 1-6, earning runner-up in their flight. The team had faced a huge test in the semis, facing off against a scrappy team from Hudsonville. The Ram duo prevailed by scores of 3-6, 6-3 and 7-6(4) to advance to the Championship Round.
The No. 3 Doubles team of sophomores Brett Mehling and Ben Lewis also had a battle in the semis, mirroring their No. 2 Doubles teammates’ round. Mehling and Lewis came up against a tough duo from Grand Haven. They fell in a highly competitive first set by a 6-7(3) score. The second set went hit-for-het with the duo eventually claiming the set 7-5. They claimed the third set 6-3 over the deflated Bucs to advance to the finals. The Championship match was every bit as competitive with the Ram duo flying out to a 6-4 win in the first set. They were staring an 0-3 score in the second set and battled admirably but fell 3-6. Despite stumbling in the second set, they came back and claimed an easy 6-2 set to claim the match and the championship in No. 3 Flight
The junior duo of Kent Burns and Jake Osborn breezed through their bracket to make it to the Championship Round in No. 4 Doubles. The finals gave them quite a test in not only tennis, but in mental toughness. The Ram duo claimed the first set 6-4, and were ahead 5-4 in the second, but the Hudsonville duo of Josh Sommers and Chad Koenig made it a battle, fighting back to knot the set at 6-6 and cause a tie breaker. The duo from Hudsonville claimed the set 7-6(3) to require a third and final set. The third set went into another tie breaker, but this time the Ram duo prevailed to claim it 7-6(4) and the title of champion for the #4 Doubles flight.
Sophomore Luke Johnson, who plays No. 3 singles for the Rams, faced off against East Kentwood senior Andrej Simic in Round 2 and gave him a battle on the court. Johnson claimed the first set by a 6-4 score, but eventually fell 2-6, 3-6 to end his tournament run. The No. 1 Doubles team of senior Caleb Werdon and Reese Kent worked their way to the semis before falling to a tough team from East Kentwood.
“I’m just so proud of these guys,” Huizing continues. “I think what really epitomizes who these guys are is the word ‘warrior.’ We don’t always win pretty, as a matter of fact, a LOT of times we don’t win pretty, but we fight for every single point on the court. We play point-by-point. We don’t get worried about things we can’t control, and we fight to the bitter end.”
Huizing continues, “It was a total team effort today and I’m extremely proud of these guys. The Regional Championship has been a long, long time coming. At the beginning of the season, I told these guys we were going to take our lumps because we have eight guys who didn’t have any varsity experience. But, I told them we would work our way through it. We did take our lumps, and we worked through it, and we got better and better every single day. we are now playing our best tennis today, when it counted the most. I’m extremely proud of these guys.”
The team now prepares for the MHSAA State Finals, which will take place October 18-19, at the Greater Midland Tennis Center.
Will Vaneck claims the championship in the No. 2 Singles flight. ~ Photo by Jeannie Gregory
TJ Maskell congratulates Will Vaneck on his victory. ~ Photo by Jeannie Gregory
No. 3 Doubles player Brett Mehling serves the ball in Regional action. ~ Photo by Jeannie Gregory
No. 3 Doubles player Ben Lewis returns a ball in the Regional Finals. ~ Photo by Jeannie Gregory
Ben Lewis and Brett Mehling celebrate their Championship in No. 3 Doubles. ~ Photo by Jeannie Gregory
No. 4 Doubles player Kent Burns in Regional action. ~ Photo by Jeannie Gregory
No. 4 Doubles player Jake Osborn goes up for a ball in Regional action. ~ Photo by Jeannie Gregory
Jake Osborn and Kent Burns react to their victory in the finals. ~ Photo by Jeannie Gregory
No. 4 singles player Sam Danner returns with a backhand in Regional Finals action. ~ Photo by Jeannie Gregory
Sam Danner celebrates with a fellow player after winning the No. 4 flight. ~ Photo by Jeannie Gregory
~ Photo by Jeannie Gregory
~ Photo by Jeannie Gregory
~ Photo by Jeannie Gregory