The Buccaneers finished sixth as a team at last year’s competition, and was returning plenty of talent and experience to make a run at a potential state meet appearance.
Despite a valiant effort, the Bucs missed the qualifying mark by five points, totaling 15 for the day. O-K Red Conference rivals West Ottawa (21) and Rockford (20) finished first and second to qualify for the Division 1 state meet on Oct. 14-15 at the Greater Midland Tennis Center.
“It was a good day for us,” said Grand Haven coach Chris Wilton. “Everyone on the team won a match again at regionals. We were able to do that last year, too. We are still somewhat young as far as our team roster is concerned, but we had a lot of young guys step up.
“As far as the day, we lost a couple three setters that could have made things interesting in the final standings. For us to finish tied for third at regionals after finishing fifth in the conference during the season and sixth at last year’s regionals shows that we’ve made some progress as a group and as a program.”
Grand Haven was led by junior Riley Wilton, who finished atop the No. 3 singles bracket for the second season in a row.
“Riley had three tough matches,” coach Wilton added. “This is the second year in a row that he’s won his flight at regionals. He didn’t play great, but he found ways to win. He didn’t lose a single set, either. That just shows you he was able to stay consistent and not lose focus.”
The younger Wilton agreed and was happy with the final result.
“It was a good day, overall,” said Riley Wilton after his final match. “There were some bumps in the road, but I overcome those and ended up winning. The semifinal match was definitely a better outing than the last time I went up against him. That gave me some confidence heading into the final match against Rockford, and I knew that one was going to be a tough match, because Rockford is always a good team.”
Junior Spencer Sortman at No. 2 singles also advanced to the final round of his bracket. Sortman lost a tough three-set match, battling through cramps and illness in the process.
“Spencer was cramping all over by the end of the day,” Coach Wilton added. “He had cramps in his hamstrings, his calves, his shoulders and his wrists. He had a tough, physical day today. He was even vomiting between some of his matches. He battled through all of that, though, and almost won his flight. He’s just a tough kid, and I was impressed with his determination out there.”
Freshman Noah Bachmann made quite the first impression on the regional field on Thursday, advancing all the way to semifinal round of the No. 1 singles bracket. Bachmann battled through a three-set match against Grandville, but fell short in final stanza.
“Noah had beat his opponent from Grandville when they plated outside earlier in the year,” Coach Wilton said. “Playing indoors, the conditions aren’t a factor, and it’s a different style of play. Noah fought hard in the first set and lost a narrow one there. He came back and won the second set, but couldn’t quite make enough plays in that third set. He’s just a freshman, though. He’s only going to get better and better, and experiences like this will help him in the future.”
Wilton views Thursday’s results as a step in the right direction for the entire tennis program at Grand Haven, and believes next year’s team has all the tools to make the next step — a trip to the state meet.
“We’re hoping to make this a stepping stone,” he said after the meet. “I told the guys at the beginning of the day that we needed to approach today as a proving grounds to ourselves. I wanted them to test themselves against teams like West Ottawa and Rockford. We are losing three key, quality players from our roster at the doubles flights, but we have a lot of kids coming back.
“We’re hoping to take that next step as a program and qualify for the state meet next fall.”