Greenhills Near-Perfect in New Division

By Pam Shebest
Special for

October 19, 2019

KALAMAZOO — Saturday was a perfect day for tennis and almost perfect for Ann Arbor Greenhills.

The Gryphons grabbed 39 of 40 points to win the MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division 3 Boys Tennis Finals at Kalamazoo College’s Stowe Stadium.

Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood and Detroit Country Day tied for second with 24 points each, while East Grand Rapids and St. Clair tied for fourth with 22.

This is the first year in Division 3 for Greenhills, the D-4 reigning champ who had won that division nine of the last 11 years.

“We were looking forward to coming in to see what it’s like (in D-3),” Greenhills coach Eric Gajar said. 

“It lived up to expectations. There are a lot of very good teams here on the second day of the tournament. We did well (Friday), but the kids felt it was a step up.”

Greenhills, which clinched the team title in the semifinal round, had the top seed in every flight except No. 4 singles.

That was a motivator for Gryphons freshman Chakor Rajendra, the second seed at that flight.

“He had a little chip on his shoulder because he had such a good year and was undefeated,” Gajar said.

“But then in three doubles, we were the one seed and lost to some guys seeded lower. That’s why you go out and play. Anything can happen.”

Rajendra defeated the top seed, St. Clair freshman Ian Pinnoo, 6-3, 6-3, and lost just two games heading into the final.

“I never knew that high school tennis could be this fun,” he said. “I’m part of a great team with so many amazing people.

“I learned a lot from this experience. I play USTA tournaments, and this is going to definitely transfer some of these things I’ve learned and help me become a better player and a better person overall.”

As for being seeded second, “I wanted to prove that I had what it took to be a state champion,” he said. 

“I just wanted to do the best I could. Seeding is great, but in the end it doesn’t matter.”

Playing on adjacent courts, a pair of brothers, Kaan and Mert Oral, also took home championship medals.

At No. 1 singles, Mert, a sophomore, defeated St. Clair’s third seed, Derek Distelrath, 6-4, 6-2.

At No. 2, Kaan, a senior, beat St. Clair’s second seed, Eli Pinnoo, in a 6-2, 7-6(11) barn-burner.

Playing behind his younger brother is not a problem for the senior.

“Last year he played No. 3 singles, and I played No. 2,” Kaan Oral said. “He grew a lot and got a lot better. I’m happy for him.”

The No. 1 singles match finished first and “I didn’t want him to one-up me,” the senior said. 

“There were intervals in my match when I was somewhat distracted with his match a little bit because I wanted him to win so badly, especially since he was down in his first set and had to claw back.”

Oral was up 2-0 in the second set, but then the momentum changed.

“(Pinnoo) hit some good shots, attacked more and was more aggressive,” he said. “I had like 10 set points.”

Pinnoo said the cheers from teammates helped motivate him.

“I kept fighting, keeping him in the point, making him move, tiring him out,” Pinnoo said.

“I just don’t give up and keep fighting for every point. I was trying to win for the team.”

Mert Oral admitted that being a top seed leads to a bit of extra pressure.

“I just tried not to focus on the seed (Friday) and play my way into the tournament and get a feel for everything. 

“(Saturday), I was really able to find my A game.”

In the semifinal, “The guy (No. 4 seed Ben Collins of East Grand Rapids) brought the best out of me, and in the finals that was a great match. I was able to just get by.

“I mean, I had to come back in the first. It was just trusting my game.”

Distelrath upset No. 2 seed Nikolas Gruskin of Detroit Country Day, 6-3, 6-4, in the semifinal.

“It felt good because I lost to him in a full third during the regular season, and I was glad I got to play him again and get a chance to get some revenge,” he said.

Facing Oral, “He’s very good,” Distelrath said. “I went in with the mentality that I’ll give my best and work my hardest until I’m out of gas.”

At No. 3 singles, another freshman, Rishi Verma, defeated St. Clair’s Michael Mascarin, the second seed, 6-3, 6-2.

Verma was broken twice to start the match down 0-3, but “it feels nice to bring it back and then bring it home.

“I generally don’t like to be the top seed, actually, because of the pressure. But I guess it worked out this time.”

Verma said he was inspired by his teammates.

“I looked at my teammates, and they were all fighting, too,” he said. “I was like, we came all this way.

“You’ve just gotta push, gotta put in that effort and find that extra gear, and I did.”

Detroit Country Day’s second seeds at No. 3 doubles, Clay Hartje and Aidan Khaghany, spoiled Greenhills’ team sweep attempt with a 6-4, 6-3 win over top seeds Nathan Rosenberg and Finn Feldeisen.

Both teams advanced to the finals with three-set wins in their semifinals.

At No. 1 doubles, Henry Branch and Sahil Deenadayalu defeated Grant Moorhead and Tanner Warners, the second seeds from Grand Rapids Christian, 6-1, 6-1.

At No. 2, Joey Formicola and Daniel Stojanov beat Cranbrook’s second seeds, Hayes Bradley and David Hermelin, 6-3, 6-2.

At No. 4, Alex Schwendeman and Thomas Zeng defeated Cranbrook’s second seeds, Calvi Teste and Ben Conti, 6-2, 6-3.

Click for full results.

PHOTOS: (Top) Greenhills’ Kaan Oran reacts after winning a 13-11 second-set tie-break at No. 2 singles. (Middle) Greenhills’ Chakor Rajendra. (Below) St. Clair's Michael Mascarin serves at No. 3 singles. (Photos by Pam Shebest.)

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

By Geoff Kimmerly 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