The senior-laden squad returns it’s entire singles lineup and the vast majority of its doubles teams, as well. The Buccaneers look to be serious title contenders in a stacked O-K Red Conference, and will be a major player at their regional tournament, too.
Spring Lake will also enjoy a large returning contingent in 2017, as well. The Lakers hope an influx of young doubles players will help the team develop some depth and become a contender in the O-K Blue Conference.
For Fruitport, the numbers game isn’t in their favor. The Trojans only have six players on their current roster, but do return a lot of experience from last season. While team goals will be difficult to achieve with a lack of roster depth, the Trojans will be likely be a thorn in the side of many O-K Black opponents this fall.
Western Michigan Christian will begin a new era under head coach Jay Starke. The Warriors will blend experienced seniors with talented underclassmen, in what should be a Lakes Eight Conference frontrunner in 2017.
Here’s a look at how all the teams stack up.
Head Coach: Chris Wilton
Last Year: 3-2-3, fifth in O-K Red, third at regionals
Key Returners: sophomore Noah Bachmann at No. 1 singles (23-5 last year, conference runner-up, All-Conference), senior Spencer Sortman at No. 2 singles (25-4 last year, conference champion, regional runner-up, All-Conference), senior Riley Wilton at No. 3 singles (26-3, last year, conference champion, regional champion, All-Conference), senior Nathan Sexton at No. 4 singles, senior Dylan Shenefield and junior Mason Price at No. 1 doubles, senior John Richardson (doubles), junior Chris Akselberg (doubles) and sophomore Weston Taylor (doubles)
“We knew a long time ago that this year would be a strong year for our program,” said Wilton. “We have five returning seniors that have played within our program since sixth grade. Our singles players were our strength last year, but our doubles are much stronger this season as we have many players that have worked hard all year and should make us deeper than last year. We hope to compete for the O-K Red Conference championship, which I don't think Grand Haven has won since 1994. We also hope to compete for the regional title, too.
“These kids have been together a long time, and I think it has been great seeing them all mature through the years. Our team should be competitive with most of the teams we play. Our singles lineup is pretty solid and this year, I don't expect as many ties. I’m hoping to turn those into wins with our doubles teams winning a few more. Noah had an amazing summer of tournaments and Riley also played in many events and won the last one he was in.
“We would really like to see as many people come out and watch this team play, as you will see some great tennis throughout the season. We don't have many home matches this year, but Sept. 13 and Sept. 20 will be big conference matches, as we play West Ottawa and Grandville. Those two matches should be great to see. We tied with both of them last year and have not beaten West Ottawa in almost 20 years. We will take all the support we can get from our local supporters.”
“West Ottawa is very deep and didn’t lose many players. Rockford has a great program, and they will reload again this year after losing their top two singles players and a few others. Grandville should be good again, but Hudsonville has really taken some steps forward as many of their players are improving quickly and should be deep again. It will be a five-team race for the conference and it should be exciting.”
Head Coach: Cathy Layson
Last Year: Fourth in O-K Blue
Key Returners: No. 2 singles Jack VanWingen (2016 regional champ) No. 1 singles Rylan Peets (moved from doubles)
“Expectations are cautiously high,” Layson said. “We basically have one tennis player and 11 athletes. My No. 4 singles is our only tennis player, the rest are just incredible athletes who are good at tennis. We are pretty senior heavy with one sophomore and three juniors, eight will graduate.
“The seniors we have coming back know what they are stepping into and their guidance of the newcomers to varsity has been key. Peets and VanWingen have become really serious about making sure they are practicing with a purpose and getting better.
“We were only one point from state last year, finishing with 17 at our regional. We are moving into a tougher regional, so we probably are not going to state again, although I do think we have a stronger team.
“We are in with Grand Rapids Christian, Forest Hills Eastern, East Grand Rapids and Catholic Central. If we end up one point from state again it will be a victory, if we hit double digits, I’m throwing a party.”
“We finished fourth last year behind Catholic Central, Coopersville and Sparta. Coopersville, their boys team is always so good. They will be tough again this year and Catholic Central is always tough. Sparta was tough last year, I would love to sneak into third.”
Head Coach: Brad Busscher
Last Year: 2-8, fifth in the O-K Black
Key Returners: Senior James Wiegand, senior Rhyan Mansfield, junior Nathan Van Meter, junior Reece Zeller, sophomore Jordan Bevins.
“Our goals as a team this year are center around our collective group,” said Busscher. “We want to improve individually in our skill sets and become a better team as a whole by working together towards our common goals. We would like to improve our win total, conference finish, and regional position from last year, as well.
“We are trying our best right now to get more boys out for tennis. We have six boys total with five boys practicing right now, which can make it difficult to do team activities on a day-to-day basis. The boys that are out now are working hard to establish a standard for all teammates to be mentally and physically conditioned and to be ready for their competition on the court.”
“The O-K Black Conference will see Reeths Puffer, Mona Shores and Jenison battling for the top spot. We are hopeful to play great conference matches and be in the mix with those top teams by the end of the season.”
WESTERN MICHIGAN CHRISTIAN
Head Coach: Jay Starke
Players to Watch: senior Cam Beisel, senior Jeff Merz, senior Casey Fink, freshman Jaxon Deur, senior Andrew Hill, senior Daniel Hartley, senior Lane McIntyre, sophomore Silas Jeltema, sophomore Michael Kamps, freshman Sean Krieger.
“The boys have been practicing as a team for about two weeks and their hard work is already paying off with some impressive wins in match play this fall,” Starke said. “We have six seniors, but will rely heavily on juniors, sophomores and a great infusion of talent in the freshmen class, as well.
“This year’s team, made up of young men who are smart, enthusiastic, and fun to be around, should be very competitive and exciting to watch. We are ready for a fun-filled season of Warrior tennis.”