New Division, Long Weekend, Same Championship Result for Greenhills 'Family'

By Greg Chrapek
Special for Second Half

October 21, 2023

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.”

Liggett’s Sebastian Courtright returns a shot on the way to claiming the flight championship at No. 1 singles. 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.”

Click for full results.

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.)

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