MATTAWAN — When Matt Boven first started coaching the Mattawan girls tennis team, he was “an 18-year-old coaching 18-year-olds,” he laughed.
Twenty years, a wife and two daughters later, Boven is still leading the Wildcats and racking up some impressive numbers.
During his tenure, Mattawan has eight top-10 finishes at the MHSAA Finals, including a ninth in Lower Peninsula Division 2 last year.
The Wildcats’ best Finals finish was a third-place tie with Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern, Holly and North Farmington in 2004.
The team also has six Regional titles and own eight outright Southwestern Michigan Athletic Conference titles and 12 divisional championships. Boven was named Division 2 Coach of the Year for girls tennis in 2011 by the Michigan High School Tennis Coaches Association.
Their record over 20 years is 141-30-23. So far this year, the Mattawan girls are 3-1-1.
“In 20 years, we’ve never had a losing season,” Boven said. “For six years, we didn’t lose a dual match.”
Boven is relying on upperclassmen to lead the team this season after graduating eight a year ago.
His roster includes five freshmen and three others who played junior varsity last year.
“I think that we’re actually pretty good for all the players we lost,” said sophomore Kate Novak. “We’ve done well in most of our matches.”
Junior Meredith Smola, who plays No. 2 singles, agreed.
“We have a lot of incoming freshmen who are actually good,” she said. “We will do well if we stay focused and work hard.”
One reason for the Wildcats’ success over the last two decades has been the summer program Boven started.
“Last summer we had 240 participants,” he said. “Forty-five kids are also in the middle school program.”
The summer program runs from the end of June to the beginning of August, with former Wildcats players helping out.
“I think a part of the story is about the program that (Boven) is creating,” Mattawan High School principal Tim Eastman said. “He is working tirelessly at all levels.
“His camps are full each summer. His JV team is huge, and kids genuinely like him.”
Liking and respecting the coach is a key to the team’s success.
“He is so much fun,” Smola said. “He’s a combination of working and bringing fun to the team.
“When I’m playing matches and losing, he’ll come to the fence to help me. If it’s a long match, he brings fruit and granola.”
Novak said Boven is good at getting the team pumped for matches.
“He’s really fun and does a really good job of getting everybody excited for the matches,” she said. “He’ll give us a pep talk before matches and tell us we can win. No matter what, if we work hard, he’ll still be proud of us.”
Boven held a variety of jobs before settling in as an English and digital media teacher at Mattawan.
A multi-sport athlete at Mattawan High School, he played varsity tennis all four years but did not really focus on tennis until he was 17 years old.
He played two years of tennis for coach Darrell Davies at Kalamazoo Valley Community College before transferring to Western Michigan University, where he focused on academics instead of sports.
He also has coached the Kalamazoo College women’s tennis team and Hackett Catholic boys team, leading the Irish to a share of the LPD4 title in 2005, and was a teaching pro at the Portage Y and Battle Creek’s Mingus Creek.
All the while, he continued as Mattawan’s girls coach.
“I’ve always loved Mattawan, the school, the community, the people,” he said.
Stowe in sights
Qualifying for the Division 2 tournament to be played June 1-2 would be even sweeter this year.
Kalamazoo College’s Stowe Stadium is just down the road from Mattawan.
Novak, who has been playing tennis since age 3, made it to the No. 1 singles semifinals last year as a freshman and knows what to expect.
“That was really exciting,” she said. “I learned that no matter how old you are or how good you think you are, you can beat anybody or lose to anybody any day.”
Smola also learned an important lesson.
“It was really, really hot and I learned you have to bring lots of water and stay hydrated,” she said. “I had to default my second-round match because of heat stroke.”
Tennis is in her genes. “I started tennis at 7 or 8 years old,” Smola said. “My four older brothers played, so do my aunts, uncles, grandparents, mother. It runs in family.”
It is the same for Novak, whose father played at University of Iowa on a tennis scholarship. He is also an assistant coach for the Mattawan girls team along with Davies and Steven Norton, the school’s junior varsity boys team coach.
Boven said one advantage he enjoys while coaching girls is “they seem to really listen and seem to be much kinder. They have the ability to appreciate the moment and people around them. They realize that it’s more about relationships than winning.”
Two girls he is not coaching yet are he and his wife Valerie’s daughters, Olive, 4, and Penny, 1.
“I would love them to play tennis so I could hang out with them more, but right now Olive is more interested in princesses and Penny is more into Play-Doh,” he said.
Two freshmen round out the singles flights, with Camryn Baney at No. 3 and Lily Ross No. 4.
In doubles, senior Eleri Irish and freshman Juliette Langlinais compete at No. 1, while junior Grace Bonnema and freshman Olivia Eubank are at No. 2.
Senior Aubrey Hayward and junior Lilia Farrugia partner at No. 3 doubles.
Junior Payton Brinks and freshman Natalie Muresan round out the lineup, with juniors Alison Weems and Allison Thorpe available to sub.
Pam Shebest served as a sportswriter at the Kalamazoo Gazette from 1985-2009 after 11 years part-time with the Gazette while teaching French and English at White Pigeon High School. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org with story ideas for Calhoun, Kalamazoo and Van Buren counties.
PHOTOS: (Top) Mattawan's Kate Novak attempts to return a volley during last season's Lower Peninsula Division 2 Finals. (Middle) From top, Mattawan coach Matt Boven, sophomore Novak and senior Aubrey Hayward. (Below) Meredith Smola follows through on a swing. (Top action photo by HighSchoolSportsScene.com; head shots by Pam Shebest; bottom action photo courtesy of Mattawan athletic department.)
ISHPEMING — There was both a single reason and a singles reason why Iron Mountain won the championship at the MHSAA Upper Peninsula Division 2 Girls Tennis Finals played at Westwood High School on Thursday.
The difference is subtle — just a single letter “s” — but rings true both ways.
It was easy to see what the Mountaineers’ secret was — sweep the titles at every singles flight while adding one more in doubles just to be on the safe side.
IM finished with 19 points, while Ishpeming outdueled West Iron County in several late finals to eke out second place by one point, 14 to 13.
Gwinn posted five points to take fourth, while Munising had four, Norway one and Ironwood did not score.
Mountaineers coach Marcus Celello credited senior leadership for the team’s repeat championship.
“We have eight seniors on our team, including all four of our regular singles players and both our No. 1 doubles players, along with one each on Nos. 3 and 4 doubles,” the IM coach said.
He noted that all those singles flights were winners with the team’s championship in doubles also coming with the pair of seniors at No. 1.
“We won this last year and returned our core, so I knew we would at least be very competitive this year,” Celello said. “We won or tied every dual meet this season.”
He said that included a 4-4 tie against eventual U.P. Division 1 champion Negaunee to give the Miners the only blemish on their dual-meet record this fall.
“But sometimes when you haven’t faced adversity, it can be scary,” the coach continued. “You don’t always know how you’re going to react.”
No. 2 singles player Aziza Burgoon — of course, a senior — completed an undefeated season by winning a marathon final over WIC’s Seanna Stine, 7-5, 7-5.
IM also got singles titles from No. 3 Natalia Brown and No. 4 Rediet Husing, along with a doubles championship from No. 1 Elle Lofholm and Anja Kleiman.
But the biggest cheers and shrieks came after IM finished its singles sweep when No. 1 Callie Bianco pulled off a 6-4, 6-4 win over Gwinn’s Miaha Schiefel.
Schiefel led 4-2 in the second set looking to force a deciding third before Bianco won the final four games.
“I just was trying to stay focused, work the ball and follow through,” Bianco said. “And maybe the most important thing was to be patient, not panic.
“I’m known for being an impatient player. When I’m on, I like to be aggressive, but I know that when I’m not on, I have to focus on being patient.”
Asked if she was “on” Thursday, she was emphatic with her “Yes I was!”
One coach trying to be patient but excited for next season is Ishpeming’s Kaitlin Rich, who watched her junior-laden team set the groundwork for a big season next fall.
“We’ve already made a big improvement from last year,” she said. “I’m proud of how hard our girls have worked to make that improvement.
“Half of our players are dual-sport athletes, which means they’re playing another sport this fall, too, so they really have to balance their workload.”
The Hematites carted off one championship, one of the last finishing finals matches at No. 3 doubles when Kaitlyn VanDeuren and Paige Palomaki had to win a third-set tiebreaker to defeat WIC’s Bailey Hoffart and Aubrey Richardson 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (7-1).
That result decided the runner-up position team-wise as a Wykons’ win would’ve reversed their point totals and places in the standings.
“We had five finalists, at Nos. 3 and 4 singles and Nos. 1, 2 and 3 doubles,” Rich said. “We return nine of our juniors next year, so I’m really looking forward to next year. I think we should be ready to make a run at the U.P.’s (title) next year.
“Kaitlyn and Paige, those two by far are the most improved players from last year,” the Ishpeming coach added.
WIC veteran coach Joe Serbentas was philosophical after his players won a pair of doubles titles, at No. 2 with sisters Autumn Smith and Kaitlyn Smith and at No. 4 with Destiny Lemery and Olivia Lamay.
“We’ve played well at the U.P.’s the last five or six years, but we also seemed to come up that point short,” he said. “Iron Mountain is so senior-loaded, you just knew that they were the big favorites today.
“We had a 5-7-1 record in dual meets, but we play a lot of the best teams in the U.P., so I still think that’s pretty good.”
Gwinn made a run at a U.P. flight championship for the first time in a number of years with Schiefel at No. 1 singles, much to her coach’s delight.
“She has such a passion for the sport, and she’s such an avid athlete,” Modeltowners coach Darcia Mattson said. “She runs track and is a phenomenal basketball player. She trains at AdvantEdge (athletic training facility in Marquette).
“She used to play tennis against her brother, Jared Rolland.
“And she’s not a big girl at all, but her heart is twice as big as she is.”
PHOTOS (Top) The Iron Mountain and Ishpeming No. 2 doubles pairs face off during a semifinal. (Middle) Anja Kleiman gets a racket on the ball during her and partner Elle Lofholm’s match at No. 1 doubles. (Below) Gwinn’s Miaha Schiefel returns a volley at No. 1 singles. (Photos by Steve Brownlee.)