The Spring Lake tennis team and head coach Cathy Layson officially found out that they were qualifiers for the Division 3 state finals, after compiling 17 points at the regional competition, and the collective group exchanged hugs and looks of excitement.
Crosstown rival Fruitport took top honors with 21 points to win the Division 3 regional championship, while Whitehall finished third with 15 points on the day.
“This is a testament to the girls putting in the work over the offseason, and really improving on their games,” said Fruitport head coach Brad Busscher. “It’s nice to see the girls’ maturity as the season goes on and see these student-athletes grow, not only as people, but as tennis players. Each one of them has faced unique challenges this year, so to come out as regional champions is pretty special.”
The Trojans’ strength continues to be their singles team, and that continued Thursday.
At No. 2 singles, Trinity Busscher defeated Whitehall’s Taylor Mikkelson (6-0, 6-0) in the championship match, while Kaitlyn LaBash defeated Ludington’s Lindsey Holmes (6-4, 6-0) to take top honors in the No. 3 singles bracket.
At No. 4 singles, Haleigh Winskas defeated Spring Lake’s Jensen Hussey (6-4, 6-0) in the championship match to take the regional crown.
“You can’t be successful as a team with only three girls, and we had contributions up and down our lineup today, so that was pretty rewarding to see,” Busscher added. “Our No. 2 doubles team has been playing exceptional tennis lately. They went three sets in the semifinals and were runners-up last weekend at the O-K Black Conference meet, as well. So, that’s one team that exceeded their seeding, today.”
Busscher has enjoyed coaching his two daughters, senior Rebekah and sophomore Trinity, in recent years, but also enjoys the collective attitude surrounding the team this spring.
“For me, these past couple years have been really rewarding, because I’ve been able to coach my kids,” Busscher continued. “This group of girls has been fun to coach, too. It’s fun when you see the kids enjoying themselves out there. It’d be different if the kids on the team didn’t get along and every practice was a drag, but this team enjoys playing together and it makes everything more enjoyable.”
Busscher credits a challenging 48-hour stretch in the schedule as a key to the team’s strong finish to the spring.
“We played Reeths-Puffer for a rescheduled match last Wednesday, and then had to come right back the next day and play a really good Spring Lake team,” he added. “So, we had a match with Reeths-Puffer that had a lot of conference implications, and then we had to turn around and play a team that we knew was going to be a contender at our regional.
“For some of the girls, that was a tough adjustment. I do think that was a good test for us, though. We finished strong at the conference tournament and a lot of our doubles teams outplayed their seeds.”
As for the state finals, Busscher wants to throw expectations out the window.
“There’s never any expectations when you head to the state finals. We didn’t have any expectations last year and finished with nine points,” he continued. “We were really happy with that performance, and I think we’ll probably head into the state finals with a similar attitude this year, too.”
The Spring Lake girls tennis team found its groove at the right time this spring. The Lakers had a strong showing at last weekend’s O-K Blue Conference meet and followed that up with a slew of impressive performances on Thursday.
The No. 4 doubles team of Jo Ruter and Rachel Oostindle defeated Whitehall’s team of Hepler and Johnson (7-5, 6-3) to take top honors, while the No. 1 doubles team of Anna Kramer and McKenzie Regualos will face Cooperville’s team of Burk and Gilbert at 4 p.m. today in the championship match.
“This is the first time in three years that we’ve qualified for the state finals, so I’m thrilled that we were able to accomplish this,” said Spring Lake head coach Cathy Layson. “We were hoping we could do it, because this was the year we’d have the best shot, but you never know how things are going to play out.
“I’m so happy for these nine seniors. I really wanted this for them, and all the hard work they’ve put in during their careers here.”
The team of Kramer and Regualos had the toughest road to the finals, but Layson couldn’t have been happier to see the duo help clinch the state final berth.
“I was surprised that our No. 1 doubles team made it to the finals, because they had to beat the top seed to get there, and they were ranked fourth,” she added. “That was an upset for us, and it was instrumental for us getting the points we needed to qualify.”
Layson hopes Thursday’s achievement will push the future of Spring Lake tennis to new heights.
“It’s huge for us and our program,” she said of the state final berth. “Hopefully, that motivates more of the young kids to keep working hard when they see all these seniors accomplish this. Success often breeds success, so I hope that inspires them to play more during the offseason and keep getting better, so we can build the program up.”
Like Busscher, Layson doesn’t want to put any pressure on her upstart squad heading to Kalamazoo on June 2.
“Zero expectations,” she continued. “We’re just so happy to get there. Whatever happens at the state finals is pure icing on the cake. They just wanted to go out there and play the best tennis they can in their final event of the season.
“Three years ago, we had a really strong team, and I think we put too much pressure on ourselves with the expectations heading into it. This year, we just want go over there and have fun. We just want to go to the hotel and spend the night together, go out for dinner together and just bond.”
Senior McKenzie Regualos approached Thursday’s meet as another chance to make her last season as a Laker special.
“Coming into this, we just wanted to leave everything we had out on the court,” she said. “For us seniors, it was our last year playing tennis together, so we wanted to make the most of it.
“I don’t think it started to sink in until we had four teams left in the finals, and we were only two points away. At that point, I figured we had a good shot, because we had four chances to get the points we needed. Once four doubles won, we all freaked out.”
For senior Francie Bailey, the trip to Kalamazoo will be a full-circle experience.
“It’s full circle for me, because my freshman year, we made it to the state finals, too,” she added. “Now, it’s my senior year, and we’re going back to the same place, and it’s going to be kind of nostalgic.”
The Lakers and Trojans will test themselves against the best of the best on June 2-3 at Kalamazoo College.