By Greg Chrapek
Special to Second Half
Many teams talk about their family atmosphere. The Midland Dow boys tennis team lives it.
Dow’s family approach was on display at the MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division 2 Finals on Friday and Saturday at Hope College in Holland as the Chargers aimed for a fifth consecutive team title. After the final ball was served Saturday afternoon, Dow players had captured six of eight flights en route to a dominating performance.
Dow claimed the title in impressive fashion as along with six champions it had players in seven of eight flight finals. Dow totaled 37 points, 13 more than second-place Detroit U-D Jesuit; while third-place Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern scored 23 points.
“The five straight titles is not about anything the coach does,” Midland Dow coach Terry Schwartzkopf said. “We do it as a community. The players, the coaches, the parents, we are all invested in each other.
“These guys are back in my room after graduation. They are friends outside of school. They even have their own fantasy football league. The parents all know each other. That is the key to our success.”
The Chargers also have some outstanding individuals. Among the best this season was a pair of seniors who each won their fourth individual title along with being part of four title teams. Julian Guerra capped his career by winning at No. 2 singles while Jason Chang teamed up with Vikram Shanker to win at No. 1 doubles.
Chang wrapped up his career by setting a career record for wins by a doubles player with 138. His partner, Shanker, finished second on the career doubles victory list with 132.
Chang and Shanker teamed up to defeat Timmy Hoffman and Marty Nagle from U-D Jesuit in two sets.
While Chang was pleased with the wins record, capturing a fourth straight team title was the main thought on his mind.
“My primary goal was for our team to win states,” Chang said. “This (win record) was just something that came along with it. The state title feels great. It is something we have been working for.”
Shanker, Chang’s partner, was in total agreement.
“It’s just amazing,” Shanker said. “We are great friends and to go out with another state championship is great. As seniors you want to go out on top.”
Shanker also pointed to the team’s family atmosphere as being key to the fifth straight title.
“We are just one big family,” Shanker said. “We train together the year round. Everyone turned it on this weekend. Our No. 3 doubles team didn’t have a perfect season but they won an amazing match.”
Dow’s No. 3 doubles team was made up of Seamus Bartlett and Daniel Mango and came into the tournament seeded second. Bartlett and Mango progressed to the final where they defeated Forest Hills Northern’s Ryan Roach and Daiki Adachi in three sets.
“It was just incredible,” Mango said. “We won the first set then we lost the second set. We got down in the third set but then we pulled through at the end. Our coach just gave us words of encouragement. We knew what we had to do. We gave it our all and we did it.”
“It just feels amazing,” Bartlett said. “We just kept our focus and played with great intensity.”
At No. 2 doubles Dow’s team of Patrick Eschbach and Colin Angell rolled to victory with a 6-0, 6-1 win against Parneet Gogireddy and Alex Winks of Forest Hills Northern.
“We just have tremendous chemistry,” Angell said. “We’ve only been a team for one year but we work well together.”
For Eschbach is was the second time he won a doubles title.
“Last year I did it at No. 3 doubles,” Eschbach said. “It was amazing to repeat.”
The only doubles title not won by Dow came at No. 4. That was where a pair of neighboring rivals from Forest Hills in suburban Grand Rapids hooked up with the title on the line.
The Forest Hills Central team of Mitch Timyan and Humzah Azeem defeated the Forest Hills Northern team of Nick Parente and Matt Zhao 6-4, 6-3.
“It feels real great,” Azeem said. “I’m just ecstatic. I’m not sure how to feel right now.”
The two teams were meeting for a fourth time this year with the Central duo having won two of the previous three matches.
“We lost at home to them about a month ago,” Azeem said. “Our intensity level just escalated from there.”
It was a first title for Timyan but he was not the first member of his family to win his final match.
“It feels amazing,” Timyan said. “It’s crazy because I saw my brother Austin win one four years ago. We just played our best and were at the top of our game.”
In singles action few players have been at the top of their games more than Kalamazoo Loy Norrix senior Davis Crocker, who captured his third straight title at No. 1 singles. Crocker defeated Dow sophomore William Kirkman 6-3, 6-1.
“This feels just as good as the first one,” Crocker said. “My goal the whole year was to win the third one. It’s just surreal. When I started I never expected to win one. To win a third one is just out of this world.”
For Guerra of Dow, he ended his career with four MHSAA titles to his credit. Guerra won the No. 2 singles title in two sets against Thomas Sheeren of U-D Jesuit. Guerra won titles at No. 4 singles as a freshman and sophomore and last year he won at No. 3 singles.
“It’s just great,” Guerra said. “I also want to thank my teammates. I couldn’t have achieved it without them.
“All the hard work paid off. It was a lot harder this year because I moved up to No. 2 singles and had to play a lot stronger players this year.”
At No. 4 singles, Dow sophomore Michael Szabo won his second straight title. Szabo defeated Freddy Heegan of U-D Jesuit in two sets.
“It’s a great feeling,” Szabo said. “Just being able to help our team win is a great feeling. It means a lot to win five titles in a row, and it means we have to keep working hard to make it six.”
Taking part in his first Finals was Dow freshman Varun Shanker at No. 3 singles. Shanker defeated Will Christian of Forest Hills Northern in two sets to claim his crown.
“I can’t say enough about the Dow program,” Shanker said. “It was my dream to play tennis for Dow and help them win a state title. To win five in a row is awesome. To play for a program like Dow with such high expectations is a great experience.”
PHOTOS: (Top) Dow No. 1 doubles pair Jason Chang (left) and Vikram Shanker exchange a congratulatory shake during Saturday's Final. (Middle) Dow's Julian Guerra prepares to return a volley on his way to winning the No. 2 singles title. (Click to see more from High School Sports Scene.)
Join Elizabeth Coon as State Champs! takes a look at all of the action from the 2023 Lower Peninsula Boys Tennis Finals.