Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central has its sights set on not having to share the Division 2 boys tennis title this season.
Two years ago it won the title outright, beating rival Forest Hills Northern, 27-22.
Last year it shared the crown with another rival, Portage Central.
With a veteran group facing a tough schedule this season with the likes of Birmingham Brother Rice, Birmingham Detroit Country Day, Midland Dow and Portage Central, coach Dan Bolhouse and his team understood the road to a repeat would be filled with booby traps.
“As every year, I try and schedule the toughest schedule we can get,” Bolhouse said. “We’ve had a few bumps in the road and we’ve not yet peaked, but our goal as a team is always to peak at the end at the state tournament. We’re working hard every day in practice, and we’re making progress. I really like our chances to go out there. If we play our best, good things can happen.”
The lineup is full of juniors who have been through the struggles and promising sophomores who have been thrown into the fray, including beating Portage Central, 5-3, in a dual meet this season. Also, there’s a freshman who has made his way into the No. 4 singles spot.
Junior Connor Genschaw is in his third season at No. 1 singles.
“We always schedule the hardest matches, and I don’t feel like I’ve really played my best yet,” Genschaw said. “We’ve played all the big teams. Portage Central is going to be one of our biggest rivals. We’ve been back-to-back, so a third state championship would be huge if we get it. Portage Central has a real good player at No. 1 singles. Their whole lineup is pretty solid, honestly.”
Junior Jacob Wiltjer played No. 4 singles the past two years, winning state titles as a freshman and sophomore. He has moved up two spots “and is having a great season,” Bolhouse said.
Co-captain Jake Herbruck is a four-year varsity star playing No. 3 singles and seeking his first individual state title.
Freshman Nick Sjolin has fit in nicely at No. 4 singles.
“He is very coachable and willing to listen,” Bolhouse said. “I expect big things from him.”
Reed Aleck and Justin James are co-captains and hold down No. 1 doubles. Aleck was a quarterfinalist at No. 1 doubles last year while James was a champion at No. 2 doubles.
“A bunch of the teams know that we’re really good,” James said. “We really have to be on top of our game every time we go out. Last year and the year before, we were kind of underdogs and no one really expected us to come out on top. This year, we’ve got to prove not only to ourselves but to others that we have good talent at Forest Hills Central.”
Aidan Rynbrandt and Jack Ziegler are the No. 2 doubles team. Rynbrandt and James won the No. 2 doubles title a year ago, and Ziegler won at No. 3 doubles last season.
“They both have extraordinary hands at the net,” Bolhouse said.
Mike Battiste and Peyton Herbert are juniors and a force at No. 3 doubles. They won the No. 4 doubles state title last year, finishing 35-1 and ended the year with a 32-match winning streak. They will be difficult to beat.
Dakota Weinman and Brandon Phan are seniors playing at No. 4 doubles.
Aleck said: “The goal is three (state titles) for sure. Our doubles teams, we’ve had guys who have played with each other for the past three or four years. They all know each other, and they all get along. Our singles lineup is working to make each other better.”
Contact Perry A. Farrell: 313-222-2555 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @farrellperry.