4-Time Title Winner Headlines #1 Finals

October 21, 2020

By Keith Dunlap
Special for Second Half

When he got to the court at Portland High School, Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett senior William Cooksey discovered a realization: He was about to end his storied high school career at the same place he began it. 

“His very first match was at Portland High School, and his last match was played at Portland High School,” Liggett head coach Mark Sobieralski said. “Isn’t that crazy?”

Even crazier was the high school career Cooksey ended up producing, as he made it four MHSAA Finals championships at No. 1 singles following a 6-0, 6-3 win over Andrew Solarewicz of Grand Rapids West Catholic in the Lower Peninsula Division 4 Final.

Cooksey became the first Lower Peninsula athlete to win four MHSAA Finals boys No. 1 singles titles since Hamtramck’s Francisco Castillo did so from 1957-60. Only five athletes total, both peninsulas combined, have won four championships at the top flight.

Ranked No. 8 in the nation for his age group, the 17-year-old Cooksey will play collegiately at University of Michigan.

“I was going in there expecting a physical match,” Cooksey said of Wednesday’s final. “I started off playing really clean and hitting big. He wasn’t used to that ball. Towards the middle of the second set, he kind of caught on to it. I kind of adjusted from there and put more balls in play.”

Earlier in the day, Cooksey beat both Malachi Yaffey of Grand Rapids NorthPointe Christian and Andrew Frost of Grand Rapids Catholic Central by identical 6-0, 6-0 scores.  

In an effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the MHSAA Boys Tennis Tournament this fall was adjusted from its usual flighted bracket format to a head-to-head team event. Liggett won the LP Division 4 team title Friday, and Wednesday the top eight No. 1 singles players in each division faced off for individual championships.

Division 1

Okemos senior Josh Portnoy might not have been the top seed going into his Division 1 individual championship match against Gabe Brown of Troy Athens, but he did have two other things going for him. 

One was that he had homecourt advantage with the Final taking place at Okemos.

“I really felt like it was an advantage,” said Portnoy, the No. 2 seed. “Having friends and teammates there cheering for me and practicing there gave me an advantage.”

The other edge was having some knowledge of Brown, who beat Portnoy earlier this season.

“Just play free and just play my game,” Portnoy said of his big adjustment for the rematch. “Definitely play more aggressive and be on the offense more.”

Portnoy certainly did that, earning a surprisingly dominant 6-1, 6-1 win over Brown to capture the championship. 

It turned out to be a double title for Portnoy after Okemos won the Division 1 team title five days earlier. 

Portnoy started off the day with a 6-0, 6-0 win over Angie Zhou of Ann Arbor Pioneer before beating Noah Roslin in their semifinal, 6-4, 6-4. 

Brown beat Anthony Van Oyen of Ann Arbor Skyline 6-4, 6-0 and Matthew Freeman of Northville in the semifinals 6-2, 6-2.

Division 2

Mattawan senior Nathaniel Webster said he had never experienced pain like that before on a tennis court. 

While up 2-1 in the second set of his championship match at Lansing Waverly against Nick Herdoiza of Walled Lake Central, Webster said he started experiencing a “whole-body cramp.” 

Webster won the first set 6-4, but the cramp was so severe that he said he was forced to serve underhand the rest of the match.

“My teammates were there cheering, and I got a lot of adrenaline going,” Webster said. “I don’t know what happened.”

What eventually happened was that Webster overcame the pain and grinded his way to a second-straight No. 1 singles title, beating Herdoiza in the second set 6-2. 

Seeded No. 1, Webster beat Alex Wootton of Portage Northern in a quarterfinal, 6-3, 6-0, and Sammy Yin of Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central in a semifinal, 6-3, 6-1, to earn the opportunity to repeat.

Webster will play collegiately at Ball State.

“This was a lot sweeter,” he said, comparing to 2019. “I was cramping in my last match a lot, so it was more hard-fought than last year. Just to go out my senior year with all my friends, it felt great to go out like this.”

Division 3

Ann Arbor Greenhills junior Mert Oral repeated as No. 1 singles champion in this division in impressive fashion at Mason, beating Owen DeMuth of Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood in the final, 6-0, 6-1. 

“It feels good to be able to back up what I did last year, for sure,” he said.

Oral lost just two games the entire day, beating Sreejay Ramakrishnan of Ada Forest Hills Eastern in a quarterfinal, 6-0, 6-0, and Simon Volkema of Grand Rapids Christian in a semifinal, 6-1, 6-0. 

“My serve was pretty good,” Oral said. “I was really consistent. I was able to use my forehand from the baseline and was really happy with the way I was able to compete and battle throughout my matches.”

PHOTO: Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett senior William Cooksey volleys during Friday’s Lower Peninsula Division 4 team championship tournament at Portage Central.

Lacrosse Finals Move to U-M Among Headlines as Spring Sports Ramp Up

By Geoff Kimmerly
MHSAA.com senior editor

April 9, 2024

The Girls & Boys Lacrosse Finals will be played at University of Michigan Lacrosse Stadium for the first time, one of the most notable changes for this season as sports ramp up for more than 100,000 athletes anticipated to participate this spring for Michigan High School Athletic Association member schools.

The MHSAA sponsors postseason competition each spring in baseball, girls and boys lacrosse, girls soccer, softball, girls and boys track & field, boys golf (Lower and Upper Peninsula) and girls golf (UP), and girls (LP) and boys (UP) tennis.

The U-M Lacrosse Stadium opened for competition in 2018 and seats 2,000 spectators. The Girls Lacrosse Finals will be played Friday, June 7, with Division 1 at 4 p.m. and Division 2 at 7 p.m. The Boys Lacrosse Finals will be played the following day, June 8, with Division 2 at 11 a.m. and Division 1 at 2 p.m.

Girls lacrosse also has a significant format adjustment this season, as games will be played with four 12-minutes quarters instead of the previous two halves, in part to allow coaches more opportunities to provide direct instruction during a game. Two more rules changes are expected to improve flow of play – players awarded a free position outside of the critical scoring area no longer must come to a stop and settled stance before self-starting, and false start penalties outside the critical scoring area have been eliminated.

Several more rules changes will be noticeable this spring:

In boys lacrosse, a change was made to enhance player safety. Play will stop immediately any time a player’s helmet comes off, and that player may not return until the next dead ball after play continues.

Fair and legal starts are a continued emphasis for track & field, and a rule change will allow for movement before the start of the race as long as a competitor does not leave their mark with a hand or a foot after the “set” command, or make forward motion before the starting device is activated.

A significant rule change in softball alters pitch delivery mechanics. The pitcher may now have both feet off the ground at the same time when releasing the ball as long as both feet remain within the 24-inch width of a pitching plate and the pitcher does not replant the pivot foot before delivering the pitch.

Another change in softball requires that a playbook/playcard be worn on the wrist or kept in a back pocket to reduce distractions. If worn by the pitcher, the equipment must be worn on the non-pitching arm. Similarly in baseball, a wristband with plays or instructions will be permitted but must be a single, solid color, and for pitchers may not contain the colors white or gray or be otherwise distracting. Baseball players must wear this wristband on the wrist or forearm, and pitchers may wear one only on their non-pitching arm.

Also in baseball, a rule change allows for one-way communication devices worn by the catcher to receive instructions from the dugout while on defense, for the purpose of calling pitches. The coach must be inside the dugout/bench area to use the communication device.

Golfers now are required to participate in at least four competitions for the high school team prior to representing that school team in an MHSAA Regional or Final. Those four regular-season competitions may be 9 or 18-hole events.

In tennis, for the first time in Lower Peninsula play, a No. 1 doubles flight from a non-qualifying team will be able to advance from its Regional to Finals competition. To do so, that No. 1 doubles flight must finish first or second at its Regional, and the No. 1 singles player from that team also must have qualified for the Finals individually by finishing first or second in Regional play.

On the soccer pitch, two officiating-related changes will be especially noticeable. Officials now may stop the clock to check on an injured player without that player being required to leave the match – previously that player would have to sub out. Also, categories for fouls have been redefined: careless (which is a foul but does not receive a card), reckless (a foul with a yellow card) and excessive force (foul with red card). 

The 2023-24 Spring campaign culminates with postseason tournaments, as the championship schedule begins with the Upper Peninsula Girls & Boys Golf and Boys Tennis Finals during the week of May 27 and wraps up with Girls Soccer, Baseball and Softball Finals on June 15. Here is a complete list of winter tournament dates:

Districts – May 23-June 1
Regional Semifinals – June 5
Regional Finals, Quarterfinals – June 8
Semifinals – June 13-14
Finals – June 15

LP Boys Regionals – May 28-June 1
UP Girls & Boys Finals – May 29, 30, 31 or June 1
LP Boys Finals – June 7-8

Boys Lacrosse
Pre-Regionals – May 10-15
Regionals – May 16-29
Quarterfinals – May 31 or June 1
Semifinals – June 5
Finals – June 8

Girls Lacrosse
Pre-Regionals – May 16-18, or May 20
Regionals – May 22-June 1
Semifinals – June 5
Finals – June 7

Girls Soccer
Districts – May 22-June 1
Regionals – June 4-8
Semifinals – June 11-12
Finals – June 14-15

Districts – May 23-June 1
Regionals – June 8
Quarterfinals – June 11
Semifinals – June 13-14
Finals – June 15

LP Girls Regionals – May 15-18
UP Boys Finals – May 29, 30, 31 or June 1
LP Girls Finals – May 31-June 1

Track & Field
Regionals – May 16-18
Finals – June 1