WO Varsity Tennis: A blend of youth and experience

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Senior Taylor Bethke, readies to hit a forehand groundstroke.

Justin Anair

It was Monday, September 21 at Holland Christian High school. All the matches were done, except one. Soph. Sam Duckworth tossed the ball up to serve, strategically placing a ball to his opponent’s backhand. Seeing his opponent struggle to hit the ball, Duckworth rushed to the net, and finished off the point with an overhead slam. He was one game away from winning a two and a half hour, three set match. Just one more game.  His opponent served, and he ripped deep forehands back. All four points result in put-away’s at the net, and a match victory for the four singles flight.

A team full of underclassmen could have been a problem for the West Ottawa Boys Varsity tennis team, but they have shown that they can hold their own against some of the best teams in the state.

“Talent, character and experience are the three bases of tennis. Talent and character are the two most important things in tennis. You can get experience along the way,” Coach Peter Schwallier said. “I don’t mind having a young team. I’m absolutely fine with having so many underclassmen.” Schwallier is referring to the 10 underclassmen on the Varsity tennis team, one of the youngest teams he’s had while coaching at West Ottawa. Their lack of experience hardly shows up and down the flights, especially in the third doubles role.

Squeaks and scuffs came from the tennis courts in Ann Arbor. Screams of victory and sighs of defeat followed in an intense three set match at the three doubles flight between West Ottawa and Grosse Pointe South. The WO team, composed of Freshmen Michael Hoffman and Derek Maas, were one point away from victory. Maas served the ball, and quickly became forced into a long ground stroke battle. Hoffman, seeing his partner starting to struggle, cut across the net after his opponent hit the ball, and crushed the ball to finish the point, set, and match.

This match ending point is just one of the many points that the Freshman duo have dominated at the third doubles position. “As a doubles team the strengths we have are probably consistency and our ground strokes,” Frosh. Derek Maas said. As a team, they have beaten notable opponents with their consistency, such as Grandville, Mona Shores, and Okemos High School, many of which were composed of juniors and seniors. “We really don’t feel any pressure, since we are just starting out as freshman,” Frosh. Michael Hoffman said. Hoffman and Maas have seemed to overcome their lack of experience, and instead, they have used their youth to pressure the older teams they play against.

Although the young team is showing success, it’s not all about the underclassmen. Another flight finding huge success is the one singles player, Sr. Taylor Bethke. The one singles position puts him up against the best players from every school, and he’s fought out victories throughout the season. “I definitely feel more pressure than playing four singles last year, but it’s a better pressure,” Bethke said. “I just rise up to the challenge and win.” Bethke has improved greatly over the off-season, and it has shown in his game, dominating the top singles flight in conference and regional play. “Taylor has worked so hard in the last year. He not only made it to 1 singles – he got so good that he’s one of the strongest flights on the whole team,” Schwallier said. Playing the best players from every school is not an easy thing to do, but Bethke has been dominating conference play so far. Bethke’s notable wins in the conference include a 6-2, 7-6 over East Kentwood, a 6-3,6-4 win over Rockford and a 6-2,6-3 win over Hudsonville.

The success at the third doubles flight and first singles flight have helped lead the Panthers to some wins in conference and regional play. Hard fought matches have resulted in a West Ottawa 7, Mona Shores 1 victory, and a West Ottawa 8, Holland 0 victory. The WO Varsity tennis team is making major improvements as they continue their season, looking to win conference and regional’s in the next two weeks, and advance to the State tournament in Midland.