As the sun was beating down on the West Ottawa girls tennis team, they sat together on the east court at Rockford High School. Their matches were done, but they were waiting to hear the results of the Grand Haven vs. Rockford 4th Doubles match. According to the unofficial tallying of head coach Pete Schwallier, a Rockford loss would mean that WO won the conference tournament by one point and shared the overall conference title with Rockford, the dual meet champion.
With the coaches constantly refreshing their phones, the anticipation was building. All heads turned when an assistant coach looked up from his phone and stated that Grand Haven had won. At that point, no one knew for sure if WO was the champion. “Knock on wood,” someone told Schwallier, who knocked on the paper he was holding because someone else reminded him “it’s made of wood.”
Schwallier ran to the official score table to confirm the results and to check the overall tournament standings. The team intently watched as Schwallier made his way back. “It was funny,” Jr. Caroline Sisson said. “Pete tried to put on a face like he was disappointed, but he’s terrible at that.” Trying to mask his excitement with a sorrowful face, Schwallier said, “We won the championship.” The OK Red champions jumped to their feet, crying and hugging.
This was an unpredicted victory. Only days before on those same courts, the Panthers had lost their dual meet to Rockford 6-2, winning only two of the doubles flights, and both by a slight margin.
Few woke up the morning of the tournament expecting a championship. Sophomore Chloe Karp was not filled with her typical confidence, though she knew that “we could win, but we’d have to play differently from the dual meet.” Karp realized that she and the team would have to overcome their nerves to play their best. Sophomore Katie Frauenheim also referenced her nerves as she thought back to the beginning of the day, “I was very nervous, but also a little excited.”
Early in the tournament, a championship seemed unlikely. Sophomore Kayla Lebster got through her first match fairly easily, but she knew her second match would be much tougher. “I ended up losing the first set, coming back to win the second set, and then barely losing the third set to lose the match.”
Things looked equally bad for Jr. Caroline Sisson and Sr. Megan Zimmer in their semi-final match against Grand Haven. The girls quickly lost the first four games. “But we just decided we were not going to lose when we were first in the conference.” That tough mental approach paid off, as the 4th doubles team turned the tables, winning six straight games and the first set on their way to what turned out to be a comfortable win.
The third doubles finals also had to fight for their win. Soph. Jolene Soriano described the atmosphere as “intense, engaging, and energetic.” This led to some great plays, but also to some nerves. In the final game, Soriano double-faulted repeatedly at deuce, but she and her partner Jr. Alex Coy battled back to deuce each time. Finally, they broke through and sealed their win as Rockford sent their final shot wide.
Only five days before, Soriano and Coy had been beaten soundly by this same Rockford team.
“As we were getting off the court, I think I was on the brink of crying. It was hard for me to breathe and comprehend that we won our flight, but I had the biggest smile on my face and it didn’t go away for a while,” Soriano said.
Their season had started with bursts of victory all around, “We played in three tournaments prior to this and won all three of them. Two of them were tournaments we’d never won before in the 10 years I’ve been here. We also had our best finish ever with Forest Hills Northern, traditionally the best team in West Michigan. Not only that, but it’s important to point out that we have the youngest roster of any team in West Michigan. So not only have we been doing great, but the future looks awesome as well,” Schwallier said. Carrying on their tournament streak wouldn’t be without difficulty.
With 20 wins and only 2 losses going into the tournament Frauenheim’s nerves were not something that weighed her down. After winning her first match of the day she was told that her next match would be against Grand Haven. “I had already played her twice so I went into the match confident, but not too much so because anything can happen,” Frauenheim said. As she made her way to the court to warm up she was preparing mentally and physically for this match that would be a fair game. With the extra confident boost from her first win, Frauenheim was ready to make this match a win as well. “The reason I won was because I was more consistent and hit harder groundstrokes. The end score was 6-0 6-2,” Frauenheim said. With Grand Haven playing a good game the win was still one that Frauenheim should be proud of.
“Within about 30 minutes of each other, every doubles team finished their final match, each of them winning the conference title in straight sets. At that moment, I knew that we had a one point lead on Rockford. Rockford was playing Grand Haven at a different site, and if Rockford lost that, they’d be unable to catch us. About two minutes after our final doubles team won their flight, one of our assistant coaches shouted out that Grand Haven upset Rockford at 4th doubles. We had won it,” Schwallier said.
As Schwallier was walking back to the team with an imitation sorrowful face, that was the only sign of sadness at the end of the day.
The team used the momentum from the district championship to propel them to a second-place finish in regionals. They will head to the state tournament the first weekend in June.