By Greg Tunnicliff
Special to Second Half
GRAND BLANC – Mark Gorte did more this fall than just help Midland Dow capture a fourth straight MHSAA Lower Peninsula tennis championship.
He made some lifelong friendships that despite winning an MHSAA title made it tough to see this fall come to an end.
The Chargers capped a remarkable season Saturday, taking top honors with 35 points at the Division 2 Final at Genesys Athletic Club in Grand Blanc. Gorte and his partner, junior Patrick Eschbach, won the individual title at No. 3 doubles.
The top-seeded duo beat second-seeded Amey Vrudula and Nico Finelli of Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central, 6-3, 6-1, in the championship match.
It was Gorte and Eschbach’s first individual MHSAA championship.
“It makes me proud to be on this team and contribute to winning the state championship for the fourth straight year,” Gorte said. “It also makes it harder to leave. These are some of the best guys I’ve ever known.”
Dow’s depth was the difference during the two-day event, which began at Holly and Fenton high schools but was moved indoors because of inclement weather. The Chargers placed six flights in individual finals, winning five.
Forest Hills Central came in second place with 23 points.
“When they were freshmen, (Austin Woody, Mike Templeman and David Read) made a joke and said they were going for a minimum of an eight-peat,” Dow coach Terry Schwartzkopf said. “They were good for their word their four years.”
Kalamazoo Loy Norrix junior Davis Crocker earned his second straight championship at No. 1 singles, avenging a loss in the Regional final in the process.
Crocker lost to Portage Central’s Billy Heckman, 7-6 (7-4), 6-1, in the Regional championship match before coming back Saturday and beating him, 6-1, 6-1 to win the flight.
Crocker ended the season with a 30-1 overall record.
“I had a target on my back all season so I couldn’t let up,” Crocker said. “People were gunning for me so I had to go out on a mission in the state tournament.”
Pacing Dow was senior Austin Woody, who beat second-seeded Rob Stevens of Portage Central, 6-2, 6-3, in the No. 2 singles championship match.
Woody captured his 80th straight victory in the final. The streak is an MHSAA record, eclipsing the previous standard of 60 set by former Grosse Pointe University Liggett standout and ATP professional Aaron Krickstein from 1981-82.
Woody finished with a 41-0 record this season, tying the MHSAA record set by Traverse City Central’s Hunter Bergsma and Caleb Morgan in 2010 and equaled by Dow’s Jonathan Gurnee last year.
It was Woody’s second MHSAA individual championship, having won at No. 3 singles as a junior.
“It makes it a little bigger,” Woody said of his streak. “It’s cool to say you broke a record set by a professional tennis player.”
Dow junior Juli Guerra captured his third straight title Saturday, beating Portage Central’s Trevor VanderKlok, 6-2, 6-2, in the No. 3 singles championship match. Guerra won at No. 4 singles the previous two seasons.
“It’s a great experience,” Guerra said. “I have a lot of pressure on me because I won it the previous years. I have to keep working hard.”
Rounding out Dow’s singles winners was freshman Michael Szabo at No. 4. The first-year varsity player beat Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern’s Justin Minzlaff, 6-1, 6-1, in the championship match.
“I’m just proud to be here,” Szabo said. “This is just amazing to do this and win.”
Leading Dow at doubles was its No. 1 team of juniors Vikram Shanker and Jason Chang, who downed sixth-seeded Mat Denison and Stan Lassen of Battle Creek Lakeview, 6-0, 6-3, in the championship match.
It was Chang’s third individual MHSAA title, having won at No. 3 doubles in 2010 and at No. 2 doubles last year. It is Shanker’s first crown. The twosome ended 37-0 as a team.
“It’s still so awesome, and to share my whole season with him is great,” Chang said. “It’s awesome to know you won your whole state tournament.”
One of the big surprises came at No. 4 doubles where the unseeded team of sophomore Joey McClure and senior Matt Gebhardt of Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central won the championship.
The twosome upset top-seeded Andrew Camp and David Read of Midland Dow, 4-6, 7-6 (7-5), 7-6 (8-6), in the semifinals before downing sixth-seeded Alex Cross and Will Geller of Birmingham Seaholm, 6-1, 6-0, in the championship match.
It was McClure’s second title, having won at No. 3 doubles last year. It was Gebhardt’s first.
“The big deal was beating Dow,” said McClure who, along with Gebhardt, lost to Dow, 6-3, 6-0, earlier this season. “We had an insane match (Saturday) against them. We stayed intense and we did it for our school.”
At No. 2 doubles, second-seeded Zach Tayler and Griffin Neel of Birmingham Seaholm upset top-seeded David Goslin and Colin Angell of Midland Dow, 6-4, 6-4, in the championship match. It was the first championship for the Seaholm team.
“A lot of intensity,” Tayler said. “A lot of games went to deuce, a lot of holding serve. We just won a couple more points.”
PHOTOS: (Top) Midland Dow claimed its fourth straight MHSAA team title Saturday. (Middle) Kalamazoo Loy Norrix senior Davis Crocker repeated as individual champion at No. 1 singles. (Click to see more from HighSchoolSportsScene.com.)
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