By Jason Wesseldyk
Another week, another historic win for the Otsego girls tennis team.
Six days after securing the first Wolverine Conference title in program history, the Bulldogs claimed the first Division 3 regional title in program history on Friday, May 20.
Otsego finished with 24 points, followed by Allegan with 20 points and Stevensville-Lakeshore with 18 points. Hamilton was fifth (nine points), Plainwell was sixth (four points) and Wayland was eighth (two points).
Otsego and Allegan both qualified for the Division 3 state finals.
“As I reflect back to our first day of practice on March 14, I remember teaching some of our girls how to hold a racquet for the first time,” first-year Otsego coach Jen Aldrich said. “We only returned four players from last year’s squad.
“So, to say we are conference and regional champs is unbelievable. I knew we had a very athletic group, but I had no idea how quickly they would progress. To be part of making school history is an incredible feeling. But to make school history not only for the conference title but also the regional title all in the same year is extra special.”
Otsego advanced to the finals in six of the eight flights, winning four of those.
“I am so proud of the fight that we brought to the tournament,” Otsego assist coach Jack Nahikian said. “No matter the situation, we didn’t give in. There were some very tough teams we had to go against at all flights, so it was very rewarding to win (the regional title).”
Otsego squared off against Allegan in three flight finals—including the top two singles—with the Bulldogs winning all three.
At No. 1 singles, Otsego’s Aly Aldrich posted the 6-4, 6-4 win over Regan Fales.
“I was really happy with how Aly took care of business,” Nahikian said. “She went in with an aggressive, attacking brand of tennis and was the aggressor in every one of her matches, dictating the pace in most of her points. She put in a tough week of practice, so it made it that much sweeter when she came out on top.”
At No. 2 singles, Otsego’s Lexi Layman earned the 6-3, 6-2 win over Allegan’s Mia Kolhoff. For Allegan coach Damien Arthur, the fact that Kolhoff was able to play was a major victory in itself.
Kolhoff had been out of action for the previous five weeks due to an injury before being medically cleared in the week leading up to regionals.
“We got some great news early last week when we found out we were getting Mia back,” Arthur said. “She went out and played three matches after being out for five weeks and she played her heart out.”
The other Otsego-Allegan flight final came at No. 2 doubles, with the Bulldog team of Sydney Grile/Margherita Bietti beating McKenna Morrie/Grace Davis 7-5, 7-5.
Otsego also won the flight title at No. 4 doubles, with the team of Sophie Maxwell/Sydney Holland besting the Gull Lake team 6-0, 7-6, 7-6.
“To lose a set 6-0 and then come back and win the next two says an awful lot about the fight and heart Sophie and Sydney have,” Jen Aldrich said. “They are competitors and it sure showed how they refused to give up.”
No. 3 singles Claudia Conde and No. 3 doubles Jenna Ballman/Kaitlyn Payseno reached their respective flight final and finished runner-up.
“We handled the heat and humidity well today,” Jen Aldrich said. “The temperatures increased throughout the day. I was a little worried seeing the forecast at the beginning of the week, but I thought they really handled it well and played through it.
“We also handled the crowd well. It was one of the first times many of these girls experienced loud cheering at a tennis match. Dual matches are typically a bit quieter, but when it gets later in the season and for a bigger tournament, the energy and noise level can increase. I was proud and impressed on how the team handled it and used that energy to their advantage.”
The state finals are slated to begin on Friday, June 3, in Midland.
“This time of year is so busy for the players with awards nights, graduations and the wrap-up of the school year,” Jen Aldrich said. “It is also tough with Memorial Weekend added in the mix. There is a two-week gap between regionals and the state tournament, so it can be a long stretch. It will be important to keep our practices intense with some fun mixed in. We can really use these next two weeks to continue to improve and get better if we can stay focused.”
Arthur is confident his team will be up to challenge of competing in the finals.
“Getting Mia back gave us a much needed confidence boost, and sparked a new energy for us,” he said. “I can’t wait to see what these girls can do at the state finals.”
By Jason Wesseldyk