Austin King ♦ Midland Dow
Tennis ♦ Sophomore
Over three days last week, Midland Dow played six opponents – including five ranked among the top 10 in Lower Peninsula Division 2. The No. 2-ranked Chargers won five of those matches and tied the sixth, paced by King’s 6-0 performance at No. 1 singles. Dow tied then-No. 1 Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern, and defeated No. 3 Birmingham Groves, No. 4 Birmingham Seaholm, No. 5 Mattawan, No. 9 Traverse City Central and Gibraltar Carlson, catapulting the Chargers into the top spot in this week’s coaches association poll.
King lost only one set over those six matches – the first against Groves’ Nolan Kovan, last season’s LPD2 Finals runner-up at No. 1 singles. King is 13-1 this season with his only defeat to Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood’s Owen DeMuth, the LPD3 No. 1 singles runner-up the last two seasons. King was 28-7 as a freshman when he also played No. 1 singles and reached the quarterfinals as the sixth seed at the Finals.
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(Photos courtesy of the Midland Dow boys tennis program.)
The Midland Dow boys tennis team has one big goal this season:
Win the MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division 2 Finals title.
And the Chargers aren’t shying away from talking about it.
“That’s the goal from the beginning – that’s always the goal,” Dow senior Thomas Ladwein said. “Why would you ever shoot for something less when you know it’s achievable? Shoot for your highest goal possible.”
Dow is coming off a third-place finish at the 2021 Final, and returned nearly all of its lineup for this season.
That’s led to a No. 1 ranking in Division 2 and a 24–0-1 record, a program best for regular-season dual victories.
“Last year was really special. I don’t remember ever having a group of guys that exceeded expectations as much as they did,” Dow coach Terry Schwartzkopf said. “That told me a little something about their character, their psyche and grit. I had an inkling we could be something special (this year). I did not expect the camaraderie, the character, the drive and determination this team has shown all season. I didn’t realize it would be as amazing as it’s been.”
Schwartzkopf knows an amazing tennis team when he sees it. He’s coached Dow to six Finals titles, including five straight from 2009-13. The latest title came in 2016.
Every Dow team since 2008 – outside of 2020 when the team title was decided in a dual format – has finished in the top five at the Finals.
Upholding that tradition could create a lot of pressure for players wearing a Dow uniform, but they don’t see it that way.
“There’s not extra pressure, but there’s definitely a certain expectation where, ‘Oh, it’s Dow High, they’re supposed to be pretty good,’” Ladwein said. “I feel like, up until this year, we haven’t been that strong. But this year, we’re a force to be reckoned with. So maybe there’s more pressure this year. You’re forced to play at your peak every time, but it’s good practice.”
Schwartzkopf also has made sure the program’s past doesn’t weigh on the current players by incorporating it into the present. Several former players who played large roles as Dow built its elite status have come back to help out this current team.
“That’s the program I’ve strived to create, one of players leading players,” Schwartzkopf said. “One where there’s a family atmosphere, and the past, present and future are all connected. … We’re fighting to reclaim the history of those guys that have come back and worked with them.”
It’s not something current players take for granted.
“It’s definitely an inspiration,” sophomore No. 1 singles player Austin King said. “They come to practice with us and give us a lot of tips. They give us little pointers on what we can work on and what to do. They’ve been there and done it, and won a state title. It’s good hearing from them.”
The Chargers also have plenty of personal experience to draw upon as they enter the postseason, which begins with the Regional tournament on Oct. 5.
Nine of the 12 starters played in the 2021 Finals, led by Ladwein and Aaron Li, who were finalists at No. 1 doubles.
King is back at No. 1 singles, while Li has moved to No. 2 singles. Logan Yu (No. 3) and Nimai Patel (No. 4) round out the singles lineup and also have Finals experience.
Ladwein is now teamed with Boaz Qui, who played at No. 2 doubles a year ago. Qui’s former partner, Roofy Elsaadany, is now playing No. 2 doubles with Aiden Tanis, one of three players who did not play in the 2021 Finals.
The No. 3 doubles team of Vishagan Karthikeyan and Shubhan Nagarkar returns intact after advancing to the semifinals a year ago.
At No. 4 doubles are the other newcomers to the lineup, Konnor Janeczko and Dominic Griffin.
That experience, mixed with a schedule that’s featured all but one team in the Division 2 top 10 and several other ranked teams, should have the Chargers prepared for the stretch run. It certainly seems to have paid off to this point.
“I think these guys have like an 80-percent tiebreak record,” Schwartzkopf said. “They get pushed, and for the most part they have this ability to focus and finish.”
Being able to focus and finish now could mean bringing a seventh Finals title back to Dow.
“It would be awesome,” Ladwein said. “To be able to go out my senior year, without ever winning a title the last four years – to speak of it and always come close, it’s always kind of hanging over your head. So, to be able to go in my senior year and win it all, personally, I’d find more joy in accomplishing that.”
Paul Costanzo served as a sportswriter at The Port Huron Times Herald from 2006-15, including three years as lead sportswriter, and prior to that as sports editor at the Hillsdale Daily News from 2005-06. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org with story ideas for Genesee, Lapeer, St. Clair, Sanilac, Huron, Tuscola, Saginaw, Bay, Arenac, Midland and Gladwin counties.
PHOTOS (Top) No. 1 doubles pair Thomas Ladwein, left, and Boaz Qui are pumped up during a Dow match this season. (Middle) No. 3 doubles player Vishagan Karthikeyan returns a volley. (Photos courtesy of the Midland Dow boys tennis program.)