Cathy Layson was prepared on just taking over the coaching duties for longtime Spring Lake coach Charlie Bassett and his Lakers’ varsity boys tennis team next fall. She didn’t anticipate her head coaching career would get started much sooner.
“(Spring Lake girls coach) Sarah Peterson had her second baby and decided that’s enough. She resigned in February,” Layson said. “I wasn’t prepared to start coaching in the spring, but I figured I better step in now or I might not get it back. It was a now or never type of situation.”
With the talented roster that Layson will guide this spring, it made her decision a lot easier.
The Plainwell native, who has coached Spring Lake’s JV girls for the past four years and JV boys for two, is excited about the potential of her new squad, which should be heavy favorites in the Lakes Eight Conference and finish in the top three at its regional.
“I’m so lucky with the quality and the number of players we have out,” Layson said. “We had 42 girls total out for this season and 30 will be playing at varsity and JV.”
A strong returning cast of singles players at the varsity level got even stronger with the addition of Lenka Pousova, an exchange student from Slovakia.
“She’s got the most talent I’ve seen since I was at the state finals,” Layson said. “She’s the type of girl that I would count my points against because they’re few and far between. I had to play against a few like that growing up.”
Pousova’s arrival pushed a potential No. 1 singles player, junior Roxane Strobel, down to No. 2 for another season.
“She’s going to have a better year and she’ll be groomed to step into No. 1 next year,” Layson said.
Layson likes the potential of sophomore Amanda Twu at No. 3 singles, as well as freshman Meryn Campbell.
“(Campbell) will be a No. 1 singles player one day,” Layson said. “She has a very bright future.”
Layson has four seniors matched with underclassmen in doubles flights, led by senior Madison Khem and junior Faith Lee at No. 1.
“We’re really strong up top,” Layson said. “Both Madison and Faith have a ton of experience.”
Layson said sophomore Jori Henderson plays the game year-round and will be matched up with senior Stephanie Sabo at No. 2. Senior Maddy Parker is joined by first-year varsity player Audrie Dalman at No. 3, while senior Rachel Briegel is paired with sophomore Megan Oostindie. Also vying for a spot in doubles are sophomores Erika Kugler, Gretta Nyboer and Emily VanWingen.
Layson said Ludington is a “fun rival,” and will battle the Lakers at the top of the conference standings. The Orioles have dropped down to Division 4 for regional competition, however, but Petoskey remains Spring Lake’s biggest postseason threat.
The gang is nearly all back for the Grand Haven varsity tennis team.
The Bucs welcome back 10 of 12 players from a year ago, in which head coach Jaime Oppenlander’s sophomore-dominated squad finished 3-4-2 overall, including a seventh-place finish at the Division 1 regional meet.
“Simply, our goal for every season is to improve our team finishes in the conference and regional tournaments,” Oppenlander said. “During the off season, the girls put in many hours on the courts, honing their individual abilities and developing succinct doubles team strategy.”
Oppenlander is obviously pleased with the experience she has returning, including three singles players. Junior Erin Staal battled through the tough O-K Red Conference slate at No. 1 singles a year ago, and should bring more power and consistency to her game. She’ll be joined by fellow juniors Gretchen Kelly and Meghan Hendrickson in the singles lineup.
In doubles, Oppelander said the frigid weather didn’t help her finalize the doubles flights, although seniors Allison Cotter, Lauren Kruggel and captain Olivia Reed are expected to play prominent roles. Juniors Adi Smith Maggie Ginocchio and Melissa Eveland also return and Oppelander said they’ll anchor the Bucs’ fast-paced doubles play.
Grand Haven had just one win in the O-K Red Conference last season, and that came against Jenison, which is no longer in the league.
“Last year, there were three strong teams: West Ottawa, Rockford and Hudsonville,” Oppenlander said. “I expect the same for this year.”
Fruitport varsity tennis coach Brad Busscher said he doesn’t expect to see much of a drop off from the success the Trojans experienced last season, in which they were a solid 5-2 in league duals and only lost to Spring Lake and Ludington.
“We’re not as the same level of experience from last season, but we’ll be able to fill some spots with some competitive girls,” Busscher said.
Fruitport will feature three returnees in its singles lineup that saw significant time on varsity a year ago. Senior Liz Taylor honed her skills in doubles play last spring, but should make a smooth transition to singles; junior Alissa Selle battled at No. 4 singles and could also move up a pair of flights; and junior Ashleigh Visscher will also make the jump from doubles to singles play.
“All three of those girls worked on their game quite a bit over the summer,” Busscher said.
A pair who could also figure into the singles mix are sophomore McKenzie Portenga and Kayla Kowitz.
Busscher said he’ll have a lot of challenge matches to figure out his doubles lineup.
“We’ve got a few freshmen girls and some girls who played JV that are just itching to get some varsity time,” he said. “It will be kind of a trial by fire to see who sticks. There’s an open competition for every position.”
Busscher had praise for sophomore Claire McWilliams, who is new to the sport but has shown great athleticism on the court through the early weeks of practice. Freshman Bailey Umstead has impressed already, as had Julia Newmyer, Brooke Wilde, Amanda Fortson and Megan Newmyer.