The Sturgis boy’s tennis team heads to Holland on Friday for the 2017 state finals. The trip to the finals will be the team’s first since 2014. The Trojans’ participation in the finals will end the longest drought in the past 40 years that neither the boy’s nor girl’s tennis team has made it to the state finals.
Taking a page from Tom Izzo and the Michigan State Spartans basketball team, the Trojans completed a regular season schedule that included eleven of the other sixteen qualifying teams for Division 3. The only qualifying team ranked in the top 10 the Trojans have yet to face is Detroit Country Day. While the Trojans took some lumps leading up to conference play, the schedule played a significant role in the team’s undefeated conference regular season and regional championship.
“The schedule was brilliant in that it inoculated us. We have seen the best. There will be no surprises at state,” said Sturgis head coach George Earl. “It tuned us up to play a lot of tennis.”
No one had it more difficult this season than Joe Wynes. From the very first match of the season against the defending Division 3 state champion Benji Jacobson of Cranbrook, Wynes has played the state’s best each and every week. Despite losing 15 of his first 16 matches, Wynes went on a roll in the final third of the season winning 8 of his last 11 matches and finishing runner-up at both the Wolverine Conference tournament and regionals. Wynes will play Will Puzzuti of Petoskey in his first match. Puzzuti was runner-up at the Flint regional and defeated Wynes during the first week of the season.
“He was never down,” said Earl of Wynes’ early season results. “He knew what he was in for. It bore fruit later in the season including at regionals.”
Zach Perry also had his fill during the season of some highly ranked players. After starting the season 2-10, Perry took care of business within the conference and the region improving his overall record to 13-15. Over the past month, Perry has pulled out a trio of three-set victories against players from Allegan, Parma Western and Stevensville-Lakeshore. Perry’s counter punching style and ability to cover a wide area of the court make him a difficult opponent for some of the heavier hitters at #2 singles. Perry will play Alex Stanulis of Haslett. Stanulis lost to Parma Western in the regional final.
Nicolas Ledesma from Puyo, Ecuador joined the team after the first week of the season and was immediately thrown into tryouts and the home opening Great 8. Ledesma had not played competitively for four years and it took some time to shake off the rust. Ledesma is currently 12-9 on the season and a regional champion at #3 singles. Ledesma will play the number five seed Anish Kokkula of Forest Hills Eastern. Kokkula defeated Derek Garmire to begin the season prior to Ledesma’s arrival.
Senior co-captain Hersh Vakharia is currently 10-9 on the season at #4 singles but has won seven of his last 8 matches and is a regional champion. “Hersh is coming into his own. He is playing the very best tennis of his career.” Vakharia will play Zeke Carter of Allegan. Carter was the Wolverine Conference champion at #4 singles. Vakharia and Carter have not faced each other this season.
The singles matches will be played at Hope College beginning at 8:30 a.m. on Friday.
Isaac Harper and Ethan Andrews teamed up together again this season after winning a regional championship at #4 doubles last season. In spite of their 11-16 record, the pair have pulled off some significant wins during the season including division 3 qualifier Pontiac Notre Dame Prep and division 2 qualifier St. Joseph. The pair have an extremely athletic style and have the ability to go on significant runs during a match. Harper and Andrews will play the #2 seeded team of Alex Mettler and Ryan Murakawa from Detroit Country Day. Mettler and Murakawa are among the tournament’s best players regardless of flight. Mettler is currently the #17 ranked Junior in the state and Murakawa was a state finalist at #1 doubles last season.
Also teaming up for the second year in a row at #2 doubles are Ethan and Jesse Pattison. Although the Pattisons have struggled at times during the season, they were regional finalists and have victories during the season over St. Joseph and division 3 state qualifier St. Clair. The Pattisons will play Jack Thalison and Wes Cressman from St. Johns. The St. John’s pair finished the season 14-6 and lost in the regional semi-finals.
“Synergy is working well. They had a great regional,” said Earl. “They are making more shots than they were early in the season. They are good, hardworking guys.”
Seniors Austin St. Louis and Justin Burch are also in their second season together as partners. The pair lead the team with 17 wins and 11 losses. Several of the wins have come against state qualifiers including Petoskey, Pontiac Notre Dame Prep, Haslett, and St. Clair. The pair also suffered a narrow three-set defeat to East Grand Rapids to begin the season. St. Louis and Burch will play the #5 seeds from Zeeland East David Courtright and John Maday. St. Louis and Burch lost to Courtright and Kevin McRae in September 6-4, 7-6.
“Austin and Justin are our steadiest flight. Our winningest flight. I’m going to miss their hard work,” said Earl. “They don’t give much away.”
Rounding out the state line-up for the Trojans are Andy Burg and Raymond Chen at #4 doubles. The pair were 11-11 as partners this season and were Wolverine Conference champions. Burg and Chen have significant wins during the season over St. Clair and division 4 qualifier Traverse City St. Francis. The duo also have narrow three-set losses to Pontiac Notre Dame Prep and Haslett. Burg and Chen will play the #4 seeded team of Nadir Hamid and Michael Hunter of Forest Hills Eastern. When Forest Hills Eastern and Sturgis played to begin the season in Petoskey, Hamid and Hunter defeated St. Louis and Burch at #3 doubles.
Doubles play will be held at Holland Christian High School beginning at 8:30 a.m. on Friday.
Also traveling with the team will be Derek Garmire and Tyler Bohacz who have both served as varsity substitutes throughout the season. Garmire was 2-5 at #3 singles filling in for Ledesma and was 5-3 filling in for various doubles players for an overall record of 7-8. The highlight of the season was Garmire’s three-set victory over Three Rivers that protected Ledesma’s #1 seed at the Wolverine Conference tournament.
Bohacz finished the season 2-5 substituting at #4 singles for Vakharia. Four of Bohacz’s losses came against players from the top 6 teams in the state. His two victories came during the Wolverine Conference tournament earning him a third place finish and a conference medal.
“We have some tough draws,” said Earl. “But we will be fighting for a top 10 finish.”