By Alan Babbitt
Special to Second Half
GRAND RAPIDS - Max Fliegner served up a memorable first experience with high school tennis.
One of the nation's top young players helped Detroit Country Day repeat as MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division 3 champion on Saturday, winning his No. 1 singles flight to lead a Yellow Jackets domination of the two-day tournament.
Country Day matched Ann Arbor Pioneer's Michigan High School Athletic Association all-division record (set in 2002) with 39 points. The Yellow Jackets won seven of eight flights and finished eight points ahead of runner-up St. Joseph.
"I've never experienced that before. It's great being on a team," said Fliegner, who was homeschooled before enrolling at Country Day this fall. "I played a ton of USTA tournaments. Nothing I've ever done feels (this) good mainly because of the team atmosphere. Everyone's watching.
"To come through like that, we did great. We've got a ton of good players on one team."
Fliegner, a junior, wrapped up his first high school season by winning his title match 7-5, 6-4 over sixth-seeded Jan Krakora of Plainwell. He entered this fall ranked No. 19 in the United States Tennis Association Under-16 rankings.
Krakora, the lowest seed in the tournament to reach a title match, is an exchange student from the Czech Republic. He enjoyed his first experience with American tennis.
"It is really nice," Krakora said. "I didn't how big the state tournament is. It's really, really good guys. I'm happy I'm runner-up. I think I really played well in the finals. This is a really good experienced for me."
St. Joseph finished team runner-up for the second consecutive season. Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook-Kingswood took third with 25 points. East Grand Rapids (18) and Grand Rapids Christian (16) rounded out the top five.
St. Joseph's Kenny Garstecki spoiled Country Day's bid for a perfect tournament by rallying in the No. 4 singles final for a 1-6, 6-3, 6-3 win over top-seeded Max Shanbron.
"It means a lot to us," Garstecki said of finishing second. "We would like to win, but at least they didn't sweep."
The third-seeded Garstecki avenged a 6-3, 6-4 loss to Shanbron earlier this season. Garstecki also won a three-setter during the semifinals.
"It feels good, a huge sense of accomplishment," Garstecki said. "I played him in my third match. I thought I could turn that match around, and that's why I did. I improved my ability to push him back, to keep him from being aggressive."
The Yellow Jackets held their top seed in every other flight.
Country Day coach Josh Molino was pleased with how his team handled the tournament moving indoors to Riverview Athletic Center and a 1 p.m. start on Saturday. It moved from Holland Christian High School because of wet playing conditions.
"It's late in the season now. Weather is a big factor," Molino said. "When we got here today, the guys were sitting around a little bit, but with any sport, you've got to be ready to roll with the punches. We understand we're here for one reason - to play tennis - whether it's inside, outside or underground
"We feel if we work hard enough, we can match up pretty well with anybody."
At No. 2 singles, Country Day's seeded Sven Kranz won his flight with a 6-1, 6-3 decision over St. Joseph's Thomas Bellio in the championship match. Kranz, the 2011 state runner-up at No. 1 singles, completed an undefeated season.
At No. 3 singles, Country Day's Rishi Patel repeated as champ in the flight by defeating Cranbrook-Kingswood's Will Dube 6-1, 6-0 in the final.
In doubles play, Country Day won every final in two sets. At No. 1, Alex Gruskin and Patrick Adams recorded a 6-2, 7-6 (5) finals win over St. Joseph's Mike Kincaid and Matt VanWinkle. Gruskin and Adams each won doubles titles last season in different flights.
Country Day's No. 2 doubles team of Max Lee and Lorenz Ghan topped St. Joseph's Ryan Teich and Jared Kuntz 6-3, 6-2 in the championship match. At No. 3, Country Day's Blake Burnstein and Rishabh Nayak defeated St. Joseph's Sam Singler and Ed Nieh 6-3, 6-1. Burnstein won a doubles title with a different partner in 2011.
The No. 4 flight saw Country Day's Matt Stebbins and D.J. Bailey beat St. Joseph's Eric Miller and Nick Stants 6-2, 6-3 for the championship.
Molino said Saturday provided a great cap to his team's awesome season. Country Day went undefeated during the regular season and claimed a Regional title. The YellowJackets also earned their third team MHSAA Finals championship in four years.
"Our goal at the beginning of the year was to get better each match. We had a lot of guys come through," Molino said. "I was really proud of Max. It was a tough loss - a lot of pressure on him - but he had a great season. The only thing I ask for is to fight for every point, and he did.
PHOTOS: (Top) Detroit Country Day's Lorenz Ghan returns a shot Saturday during a No. 2 doubles match. (Middle) The Yellow Jackets pose with their team championship trophy. (Click to see more from HighSchoolSportsScene.com.)
Join Elizabeth Coon as State Champs! takes a look at all of the action from the 2023 Lower Peninsula Boys Tennis Finals.