Spring Lake’s varsity girls tennis team clinched its second-straight trip to the Division 3 state finals on Friday, but there was a big difference with how the Lakers accomplished the feat this time compared to last spring.
“It was dominant,” Spring Lake coach Cathy Layson said matter-of-factly. “Considering that we had to default a flight (due to injury) and still were able to total 25 points, that says a lot.”
The Lakers did indeed roll to the regional championship with 25 points, beating out Cadillac’s 18 and Whitehall, who could possibly move up to 19, but had a match go late into the evening on Friday. Regardless, Spring Lake had its title wrapped up early, thanks to six of its eight flights reaching the finals and five taking home regional championships.
Longtime Spring Lake girls’ coach Charlie Bassett — who was on hand at the tournament keeping the flight and tournament scores updated, said it was the first regional championship by a Spring Lake girls tennis team since the 1980s.
“This is a special group, because even when they’re not on, they find a way,” Layson said. “It’s really been a fun ride.”
The Lakers’ fortunes have been boosted considerably by the arrival of Slovakian exchange student Lenka Pousova, who was simply dominant on her path to the title at No. 1 singles.
Pousova, who was nationally ranked in her country in her age group, lost just three games throughout the entire regional, including just one in her championship match against Cadillac, 6-1, 6-0.
Pousova had all of her shots working, including her slicing cross-court winners and her drop shots that seem to stop on a dime.
“Her drop shots stop before they even hit the service line,” Layson said. “They don’t even bounce, they just stop.”
The rest of Spring Lake’s flights have also benefitted from Pousova’s skill. The Lakers’ winning No. 2 doubles flight of Jori Henderson and Stephanie Sabo said they’ve each improved their game simply by hitting balls with Pousova in practice.
“I love playing with her because she’s really pushes me,” Henderson said. “She’ll angle me every time and it really makes me push myself to track down every ball.”
Henderson gained some revenge against the same Cadillac doubles team that defeated her and former partner Amanda Twu at last year’s regionals. This time, Henderson’s tremendous energy on the court and Sabo’s strong returns in the second set helped them score a convincing 6-2, 6-3 win.
Henderson said there’s a different mindset with the Lakers this year.
“We’re definitely more confident this season,” she said. “Last year, we were usually all nervous at meets like regionals or state, but this year, we’re more focused and just looking to set the tone.”
Aside from Pousova, the Lakers also had dominant wins by Roxane Stroebel and Meryn Campbell in singles flights. Stroebel defeated her opponent from Whitehall in the finals at No. 2, 6-4, 6-1, while Campbell, a freshman, ousted Coopersville in the championship at No. 4, 6-1, 6-0.
Sophomore Amanda Twu, who has been bothered by an abdominal injury, had it act up again on Friday during a match at No. 3 singles, forcing her to serve underhand. She ultimately exited in the semifinals.
Spring Lake’s most heartbreaking result came at No. 1 doubles, where the team of Madison Khem and Faith Lee were dealt a painfully close 6-7, 6-3, 7-6 setback to opponents from Cadillac.
“It was so even. You can’t get much more even,” Layson said. “Madison and Faith fought hard, but Cadillac just had a little extra.”
The No. 4 doubles team of Rachel Briegel and Megan Oostinde also claimed a regional title with a 6-2, 6-3 win over Whitehall.
With the state finals two weeks away, Layson can now start looking ahead and thinking about how her team will compete on the biggest stage.
“You say the state finals and you just think ‘elite,’” she said. “I’d be so happy with a top 10 finish , but top five is not out of reach with this group. I don’t think I would have said that at the beginning of the year, even with Lenka. But there are so zoned in right now and playing lights out. If they bring their ‘A’ game, we have a chance to reach that goal.”