Patience Pays Off for Soaring Orioles

September 28, 2012

Ludington boys tennis coach Cliff Perez had high hopes for the future. But the challenge during the 2010 season was convincing his players to hang on for it.

With eighth sophomores in the lineup, the Orioles learned on the fly and won only two team matches that fall.

“I was giving Knute Rockne speeches after the match every day,” Perez said, referencing the famous Notre Dame football coach. “(Saying) if we hold on to the philosophy, we’ll prevail.”

He was right, and they have – and the best could be yet to come.

Ludington followed up that tough 2010 finish by winning its Regional last season for the first time in roughly a quarter century and then tying for 15th at the MHSAA Division 4 Finals.

The Orioles get a Second Half High 5 this week after sweeping a pair of matches against ranked opponents at the Almont Invitational on Saturday, and then knocking off another in a match that could eventually decide the Coastal Conference championship.

Ludington, ranked No. 8 in Division 4 at the time, downed then No. 2 Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett 5-3 and co-No. 10 Almont 6-2 to finish first at the Raiders’ tournament. The Orioles stayed on a roll by beating Division 3 No. 9 Spring Lake 5-3 on Thursday to go to 8-0 overall and remain atop the league standings with one more match and the conference tournament to play.

But those are just the latest wins of an impressive run. After finishing third at a quad at Portland to start the season, Ludington earned a 5-3 win over No. 7 Traverse City St. Francis and tied current No. 2 Armada at St. Francis’ tournament later that month. On Sept. 8, the Orioles finished first (using the least sets lost tie-breaker) at a quad against No. 8 Kalamazoo Christian, No. 9 Grand Rapids South Christian and co-No. 10 Portland. Ludington also won its home tournament for the first time in at least four seasons.

The only ranked Division 4 teams Ludington hasn’t faced yet are No. 1 Ann Arbor Greenhills, No. 3 Lansing Catholic and No. 5 Jackson Lumen Christi.

The tough slate is by design. As Perez sat in on the MHSAA Finals seeding meeting last season, he learned how other top teams frequently face each other, and how doing so was the key to getting their players seeded highly for the postseason. So he re-did his schedule this spring to give his guys that opportunity.

 “We knew this year we’d have to travel all over the state and take on as many Division 4 powerhouse schools as possible,” Perez said. “It’s the only way to compete. You’ve got to find the best schools.”

Nine of 12 starters from last season’s Finals qualifier are back this fall, led by Perez’ son Jake at No. 1 singles. He’s 20-7, followed by senior Spencer Knudsen, who is 25-3 at No. 2.

A couple additional factors helped Perez keep the Orioles moving forward two years ago. He had relationships with them already, in part because they were Jake’s friends and classmates but also, coincidentally, because he had coached most of them to an elementary recreational league basketball championship years before.

He said all of his players have grade-point averages above 3.0 and two are among the top 10 students in their class, making them easy to teach at a school that doesn’t benefit from having players trained at early ages at outside clubs like many cities in the southern part of the Lower Peninsula.

Most of his athletes play multiple sports, but Jake Perez and Knudsen play year-round at Ferris State, about a 90-minute drive away. Perez went there to play at the indoor facility at least twice a week last winter.

And there’s some tradition to bring back as well. Ludington’s program was built by Howard Jensen, a former NFL player for the New York Giants whose sons Luke and Murphy won the French Open doubles championship in 1993. Howard led the tennis team to 10 Regional championships.

Perez took over the program 14 seasons ago, and guided it to a 10-0-1 record in 2002. That also was the last time the Orioles won a league title, something they’ll try to remedy next week. They’ve never won an MHSAA championship, wishful thinking perhaps, but something worth considering given how the team has succeeded against most of the rest of the best already this fall.

“We feel like we’re in the movie ‘Hoosiers,’ the little country kids that go into the big arena and take on these giants,” Perez said. “But we tell the guys it’s still the same court, still the same ball, and we’ve just got to outplay these guys.”

PHOTOS: (Top) Ludington No. 1 singles player Jake Perez competes earlier this season. He's 20-7 this fall. (Middle) The Orioles celebrate this season's Ludington Invitational championship, their first in at least four seasons. (Photos courtesy of the Ludington High School tennis program.)

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