ANN ARBOR — Minutes after his team clinched its first-ever boy tennis Finals championship, Tommy Puetz was still processing the accomplishment.
“It’s somewhat surreal,” he said. “I was with the team my freshman year, and we finished second that year. It’s pretty surreal to see it all come together, all our hard work in the offseason.”
That it did, and in its 14th try, Traverse City St. Francis went home with a championship trophy after a rain-soaked weekend at the University of Michigan and Ann Arbor Pioneer tennis courts.
St. Francis, the top-ranked team entering the weekend, finished with 34 points, besting 2020 champion Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett, which had 27. Grand Rapids NorthPointe Christian was third, with 19.
The Gladiators entered with No. 1 seeds in six flights.
“It’s tough being the top seed, especially for high school kids, but they handled the pressure very well,” St. Francis coach Dane Fosgard said. “It's definitely very exciting. This team has worked very hard. For some of them, they've been at it for four years. It’s definitely a huge accomplishment for myself and the team.”
A near all-day rain Friday got the tournament off to a slow start, and Saturday’s matches didn’t begin until almost noon at both Pioneer and U-M, where the tournament was played on the outdoor courts before it was moved inside after dark.
“It’s my 40th year of coaching, and I’ve never had a tournament where on the first day we didn’t get at least to the semifinals,” Liggett coach Mark Sobieralski said. “It’s crazy.”
Liggett kept it close until the final rounds.
"Our goal was to get everyone into the semifinals, and see what happens from there,” Sobieralski said, “We got everyone into the semis, and lost a couple of close ones.”
But in the end, St. Francis, which topped the state coaches poll all season, was not to be denied.
“They were just ready,” Liggett senior captain Jake Tomlinson said. “They were hungry to win that state title, because they really wanted it last year and we beat them. They were really upset about it, and all year they were grinding to get to this point.”
The Gladiators got into a groove when No. 1 singles player Grant Hedley returned from an injury.
“When he came back, our team really turned it around,” said Puetz. “We played a lot of good competition through September, a lot of D-1 and D-2 schools, which really prepares us a lot for the state meet.”
Puetz, who started playing tennis in middle school, is the Gladiator whose primary sport isn’t tennis. (It’s golf).
“All of these guys put in so much work in the offseason to reach this point,” he said., “It all pays off.
“I started playing because I got free candy for winning,” he recalled, smiling. “And now here I am, a state champion.”
And, Puetz said, despite a long day Saturday, the wait was worth it.
“Ten thousand percent,” he said.
At No. 1 singles, Grand Rapids West Catholic senior Andrew Solarewicz took the final step with his first championship after finishing runner-up at the top flight in 2020. He defeated Liggett’s Sebastian Courtright 6-1, 6-2, in the final. Solarewicz gave up only eight games total this weekend over eight sets and fourth wins.
St. Francis benefitted from championships at No. 2 singles from Tristan Bonanni, No. 3 from Owen Jackson, and No. 4 from Chris Bobrowski; and from doubles flights at No. 1 from Cody Richards and Ben Schmude, No. 2 from Jack Britten and Anthony Spranger, and No. 3 from Charlie King and Derek Berta.
Hudsonville Unity Christian’s Cam Dykstra and Cory Mitchell were the title winners at No. 4.
PHOTOS Traverse City St. Francis’ Chris Bobrowski celebrates as his team moves toward clinching its first Finals team championship. (Middle) Unity Christian serves during Saturday’s final rounds. (Click for more from High School Sports Scene.)
Owen Jackson ♦ Traverse City St. Francis
Junior ♦ Tennis
Playing his first season at No. 1 singles, Jackson won matches at that flight over Traverse City Central and Petoskey. St. Francis plays in Lower Peninsula Division 4 and is ranked No. 2 this fall, while Central plays in LP Division 2 and Petoskey is ranked No. 8 in LP Division 3. Jackson is 16-3 this season.
The top-flight standout has been climbing the lineup throughout his career with the Gladiators. Jackson finished 39-4 as a freshman and won the No. 3 flight at the LPD4 Finals as St. Francis won the team championship. He moved up to No. 2 singles as a sophomore, finishing 34-9 and also winning his flight at the Finals. Jackson also plays golf and was part of the lineup that finished 14th in LPD3 this spring.
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Past 2023-24 Honorees
Sept. 1: Rachel Forsyth, Ann Arbor Pioneer cross country - Report
(PHOTOS courtesy of Owen Jackson.)