HOLLAND – The Ann Arbor Greenhills boys tennis team is built on a culture rooted in family.
That culture has resulted in a number of state championships, and the Gryphons added a fourth title over the past six years Saturday by winning the Lower Peninsula Division 4 Finals at Hope College in Holland.
Due mostly to heavy rain during both days of the Finals, the tournament turned into a marathon event.
But that played into the culture of family that is the backbone of the Greenhills program. The Gryphons stayed together and won the key matches they needed to win as they wrapped up a second consecutive title after claiming the Division 3 championship last season. Greenhills finished with 39 points, with Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett second at 22.
“The guys really enjoy being around each other,” said Greenhills coach Eric Gajar. “It truly feels like a family on our team. We have former players reaching out to the current players and coming out to support them. Guys from last year’s team sent texts to the guys on this year’s team supporting them and wishing them luck.”
Winning this title was no easy task for Greenhills as a total of seven players graduated from last year’s squad.
“We’ve been on a good run,” Gajar said. “We lost seven seniors from last year’s team, so we had to have a number of young guys step up this year. We had a couple of guys come up from the junior varsity team and win state titles, and a couple of freshmen step up. This group has been able to rebuild faster than expected.”
One of the players off the junior varsity who made a big jump is junior Teddy Staebler. In his first year of playing singles, Staebler came into the tournament as the top seed at No. 2. He hooked up with Charles Kolb of Ludington for one of the most entertaining championship matches. Despite dropping the first set and trailing 5-1 in the second, Staebler rallied to earn a 2-6, 7-5, 6-4 win.
“I was down by a huge margin,” Staebler said. “I was down a set and trailing 5-1. I think the difference in the match was I kept hearing my dad yelling for me to stay tough. It also helped having all my teammates cheer me on. Every time the other team was cheering for my opponent, I could hear my teammates start cheering me on. It means a lot to hear everyone cheering me on like that.”
Greenhills also received big wins from a pair of doubles teams. At No. 1 doubles, the Greenhills team of seniors Alex Ye and Lucas Nor lived up to their top seeding by turning back the Traverse City St. Francis team of Eli Schmude and David Ansley 6-3, 6-3.
The win was especially satisfying for Ye and Nor, who were both senior captains.
“It feels great to end our careers at Greenhills with a win,” said Nor. “The program here is really special. A lot of teams say they are like a family, but we are truly a family here. Everyone on the team takes that to heart. Our teammates are always cheering each other on and are cheering for us on every point.”
Ye echoed the feelings of his partner and fellow captain.
“This is like a second family,” Ye said. “It’s really something special. We have an amazing legacy here at Greenhills. I’m super excited to see how these guys do next year and how the young guys do in the future.”
Senior Charles Branch, who plays No. 2 doubles with Ajay Purohit, was the third senior captain on this year’s team.
“It’s amazing how we support each other on this team,” said Branch. “I really think it starts with our coaches. They created the culture that we have here at Greenhills. They inspire us to work hard and to inspire the younger kids to work hard and improve their games also.”
Greenhills also claimed the title at No. 4 doubles as senior Shyam Pandey and freshman Maksim Rakic-Denis turned back the Traverse City St. Francis team of Quinten Musgrave and Carson Poole 6-2, 6-2.
“This is something that I’ve worked for since my freshman year,” Pandey said. “It’s pretty surreal. It’s not something you think you will accomplish as a first-year varsity player.”
“I watched video of last year’s team winning a state title,” Rakic-Denis added. “And to come in as a freshman and be part of a winning state title team feels really good.”
Greenhills closed the tournament with wins at No. 3 and No. 4 singles. Top-seeded sophomore Charlie Rich clinched No. 3 with a 6-3, 6-1, win over freshman Hawthorn Sutherland of Glen Lake, and freshman Murli Pandey downed Ludington senior Reece Ward 6-1, 6-1, to close No. 4.
Another outstanding match in singles action came at No. 1, where Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett senior Sebastian Courtright outlasted Kabir Rajendra of Greenhills 7-6 (5), 7-5. Courtright had finished No. 1 runner-up the last two seasons.
“This is the first time I won a state title,” Courtright said. “I made it to the finals as a sophomore and junior. I am so happy to finally win it as a senior.”
PHOTOS (Top) Ann Arbor Greenhills’ Teddy Staebler returns a volley during a No. 2 singles match at the Division 4 Finals. (Middle) Liggett’s Sebastian Courtright returns a shot on the way to claiming the flight championship at No. 1 singles. (Click for 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.