KALAMAZOO – Simon Caldwell was the top seed at No. 1 singles at the MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division 4 Boys Tennis Finals, but he had to survive a three-set semifinal nailbiter before clinching the title with a two-set championship match victory.
Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett, sparked by three individual winners, went home with the team championship trophy earning 30 points, Hudsonville Unity Christian was second with 27 points, Traverse City St. Francis third with 22, Big Rapids fourth with 18 and Kalamazoo Hackett Catholic Prep fifth with 17. It was Liggett's fourth team title since 2016.
The singles semifinals were played indoors while several family members and fans from Unity Christian helped dry the outdoor courts.
Caldwell, who is just a freshman at Grand Rapids West Catholic, qualified individually for this weekend. In a semifinal match that lasted 2½ hours with numerous long rallies, he defeated junior Daniel Pero, the fourth seed from Brooklyn Columbia Central, 3-6, 6-2, 6-2.
In the final, Caldwell bested the second seed, Liggett junior Sebastian Courtright, 6-3, 6-0.
“Both of those guys are great players, and I played really well in both (matches),” Caldwell said.
Leading 4-1 in the third semifinal set, Caldwell started cramping. He lost two match points at 5-3, then started serving underhand.
Once he won the match, fans – crammed in the stands – gave him a standing ovation.
“It happens to the best of us,” the freshman said of cramping. “Daniel is a great player and started to come back on me. Anyone could have won that match.
“I just happened to pull through at the end.”
Courtright, who also played at No. 1 singles last year, said his rival played a good match: “I think he was ultimately more consistent and more experienced.”
Top seed Owen Jackson, a St. Francis sophomore, defeated sixth-seeded Grand Rapids South Christian junior Levi Yaffey, 6-0, 6-0, in the No. 2 final.
Jackson lost just four games during the entire tournament.
“It’s a lot of keeping yourself pumped up and keeping yourself moving and going and always supporting your teammates,” he said. “The work we put in this season really helped, and playing the big schools really helped, like (Midland) Dow, Forest Hill Northern, Forest Hills Central. All those matches help you to push forward and to always grow as a player and as a person.”
At No 3 singles, third seed Micah Riddering, a Unity Christian senior, defeated top seed Chris Bobrowski, a junior from St. Francis, 6-3, 6-1.
Riddering lost in the first round of No. 3 singles last year and credits his grandfather, Click Groot, with helping him go from worst to first.
“It’s overall consistency,” Riddering said. “I just kept the ball in and waited for him to miss, kept it deep.”
Bobrowski said both played their hardest but “he just had a good day today and a great mindset. He was able to push past me a little bit further.”
Learning from the experience, “It teaches me I might need a little bit stronger mindset during the matches and that it only comes down to one match at the end when you make it to the Finals, so you’ve got to play your best and your hardest.”
After dropping the first set at No. 4 singles, Liggett sophomore Charlie Cooksey, the third seed, defeated Allegan junior Jackson Morrie, the top seed, 2-6, 6-1 6-2.
In the first set, “I was hitting the ball too hard and not putting it in,” Cooksey said. “In the second set, I told myself to reset, brought myself together and pulled it through.”
Jackson went from playing No. 4 doubles his freshman year to No. 2 doubles last year, making it to the quarterfinals both times.
This season, “I put in some hard work and some effort,” he said, noting that his strength is his quickness on the court.
While Liggett’s No. 3 doubles team, top seeds Steve Wheatley and Griffin Marchal, won their Finals match, 6-0, 6-3, against third seeds Carson Poole and David Ansley of St. Francis, their semifinals victory clinched the team championship for Liggett.
“Ever since the start of the year, we started off 18-0 and just clicked right away,” Wheatley said. “We knew coming into this it was our tournament to win.”
Liggett coach Mark Sobieralski said the pair had some great wins over teams in higher divisions.
“They’re both hockey players as their first sport; they’re just athletes,” Sobieralski said. “Stevie (a senior) is the guy at the net. He’s all over. He’s got incredible hands.
“Griffin, the freshman, we had him back, keep the ball in play, set up Stevie. They were like a match made in heaven.”
Sobieralski was especially proud of his No. 1 doubles team of senior Campbell Marchal and junior Tommy Ugval.
“They struggled so much during the beginning of the year,” he said. “They had a hard time and weren’t really together. They were the No. 4 seed and had a below .500 record on the season
“We play a really difficult schedule, but they were so together all weekend and pulled the whole thing out from being the fourth seed.”
The pair defeated top seeds Charlie King and Derek Berta of St. Francis, 7-6(3), 4-6, 6-3, in the semifinal before besting second seeds Jacob Lanning and Will Anama, from Unity Christian, 7-5, 6-1, in the final.
Unity Christian coach Bradley Miedema figured his team was headed for third place but was thrilled with the second -place trophy.
“I told the guys if we all just take care of what we can do seed-wise and pull some upsets, there’s a chance we can win it,” he said.
Seniors Andrew Miller and Dominic Hop listened to their coach.
“They were the No. 5 seeds (at No. 2 doubles) and now they (won) their Final,” Miedema said. “That’s one I’m most proud of this year.”
Unity Christian loses eight seniors from his varsity, but Miedema said with 24 junior varsity players, “I think we’ll be able to slot in some good players next year.”
At No. 4 doubles, second seeds Elijah Haynes and Ari Ziska of Big Rapids defeated top seeds Ryan King and Niko Cooksey from Liggett, 6-3, 6-4.
St. Francis coach Dane Fosgard said this year’s team included six players who had never been to the Finals.
“It was definitely a new experience for them,” he said. “They did great, but a couple of our flights lost in the first round, so I think they’re going to be hungry for some wins next year.
“Third place isn’t all that bad, even though we expected first or second.”
PHOTOS by 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.