By Butch Harmon
Special for Second Half
HOLLAND – This year’s MHSAA Division 3 Boys Tennis Finals featured a familiar storyline and an equally familiar ending.
For the third straight season, Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood came away with the Lower Peninsula Division 3 title – and for a third straight season the Cranes held off a familiar foe in longtime rival Detroit Country Day.
Led by outstanding singles players and clutch doubles play, top-ranked Cranbrook Kingswood totaled 36 points while Detroit Country Day placed second with 28. East Grand Rapids and Ada Forest Hills Eastern tied for third place with 20 points.
Cranbrook Kingswood did have a twist to this year’s winning plot. The Cranes were led by a new coach this season in Steve Herdoiza. Although in his first season with the boys, Herdoiza is no stranger to the tennis program as he has coached the Cranbrook Kingswood girls team the past four years.
“With this group of guys, I thought that winning a third state title was very attainable,” Herdoiza said. “I knew a lot of these guys. As a new coach it’s important that everyone buys into the system, and all these boys did. This is a team with a lot of depth and a lot of talent. When you put those two things together, and everyone is working hard, you can accomplish big things.”
Cranbrook Kingswood’s depth and talent proved key. Two years ago, the Cranes won the title by eight points over second-place Country Day, and last year the margin was just one point over the Yellowjackets. At the Regional leading up to this year’s Finals, Cranbrook Kingswood defeated Country Day, ranked second in LPD3, by two points.
Strong play in the singles flights proved a key for Cranbrook Kingswood. At No. 1 singles, senior Benji Jacobson came into the tournament as the top seed. A two-time individual Finals champion and last year’s winner at No. 1 singles, Jacobson claimed this year’s title with a 6-2, 6-4 win against Jack Dausman of Coopersville. Dausman was a familiar foe for Jacobson, as Jacobson defeated Dausman in last year’s semifinals.
After a slow start to the season, Jacobson came into the tournament on a roll the last few weeks.
“At the beginning of the year I struggled a little bit,” Jacobson said. “I changed my grip and it took a while to get used to it. A few weeks ago, it started to click and it made a big difference this year.”
Jacobson, who will continue his tennis career at Tulane University next season, capped his career at Cranbrook Kingswood as a three-time individual and three-time team Finals champion. While the individual titles are nice, the team title is by far more special for Jacobson.
“Winning the team title easily feels better,” Jacobson said. “For the past three months we’ve been on the court grinding and having fun off the court. These guys are like my brothers. We are more like a family, and winning three in a row is unbelievable.”
While Jacobson won his third individual singles title, his teammate, sophomore Lucas Bosch, claimed his first. Seeded first at No. 2 singles, Bosh defeated Ricky Warnicke, the second seed from Detroit Country Day, 6-4, 6-0.
“Words can’t describe this feeling,” Bosch said. “Being here last year helped me because I was not as nervous as last year. Winning the team title is great, especially for our seniors. This was their last matches in high school, and to send them out with a third title is amazing.”
Cranbrook Kingswood also came away with the championship at No. 3 singles. Justin Luo, the top seed, turned in an efficient performance in the finals with a 6-0, 6-0 win against second-seed Kody Harrington of Allegan.
At No. 4 singles, Detroit Country Day senior Eric Wang, the top seed, defeated a familiar foe in Cranbrook Kingswood’s Sohum Archarya. Wang held off Archarya 7-6 (7), 6-2 in a tight match.
“The first set was real close,” Wang said. “It went to a tie breaker and I won it 9-7, so it definitely was real close. It feels good to end my senior year with a win.”
In doubles play, Cranbrook Kingswood won at No. 2 as the top-seeded duo of Joseph Croskey and Nikhil Deenadayalu defeated Connor Smith and Kole Butterer of East Grand Rapids 6-4, 6-2.
Detroit Country Day claimed a pair of titles in double competition. At No. 3, Country Day’s team of Tom Nardicchio and Eric Liu held off Cranbrook Kingswood’s Eshaan Kawira and Jack Trees 7-5, 6-3.
At No. 4 doubles, the Country Day team of junior Nick Sicilia and senior Justin Lee defeated Cranbrook Kingswood’s Hayes Bradley and David Hermelin 7-6 (2), 6-4.
“To win the last match of your high school career is pretty awesome,” Lee said.
“It’s pretty special,” Sicilia said. “This is the third time we beat them this year. The first time it was 6-0, 6-3 and the second time it was 6-4, 6-1. This time the first set went to a tie breaker, so it was closer this time.”
One of the bigger surprises of the tournament came at No. 1 doubles, where Forest Hills Eastern’s Nick Hakken and Anish Premkumar, the three seed, defeated Cranbrook Kingswood top seeds Andrew Du and Jacob Yellen 4-6, 7-6 (4), 6-2.
“To finally win it is amazing,” Premkumar said. “It’s always been a goal of ours to win state.”
The win also helped Eastern finish in third place, the best finish the Hawks have ever posted at the Finals.
“We were just really focused,” Hakken said. “We had Country Day in the semifinals so we had to be real focused for that match also. To help the team to its best finish ever is really cool.”
PHOTOS: (Top) Cranbrook Kingswood celebrates its third straight LPD3 championship. (Middle) Anish Premkumar and Nick Hakken led Forest Hills Eastern to its highest Finals finish. (Click to see more from HighSchoolSportsScene.com.)
Owen Jackson ♦ Traverse City St. Francis
Junior ♦ Tennis
Playing his first season at No. 1 singles, Jackson won matches at that flight over Traverse City Central and Petoskey. St. Francis plays in Lower Peninsula Division 4 and is ranked No. 2 this fall, while Central plays in LP Division 2 and Petoskey is ranked No. 8 in LP Division 3. Jackson is 16-3 this season.
The top-flight standout has been climbing the lineup throughout his career with the Gladiators. Jackson finished 39-4 as a freshman and won the No. 3 flight at the LPD4 Finals as St. Francis won the team championship. He moved up to No. 2 singles as a sophomore, finishing 34-9 and also winning his flight at the Finals. Jackson also plays golf and was part of the lineup that finished 14th in LPD3 this spring.
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(PHOTOS courtesy of Owen Jackson.)