Perseverance pays in state tennis title for Williamston star

HOLLY – Oliver Weaver left no doubt he is the best player in Division Four MHSAA tennis.

Weaver swept to the singles championship Oct. 15, defeating Lansing Catholic Central star Vincent Orlando in early rounds and upset-minded Austin Koenes from Grand Rapids North Pointe Christian in the singles finals.

Weaver earned the title with perseverance, sweat, and countless hours of practice. “I’m really proud of him,” said Williamston head coach Nate Schwarzbek, “He works extremely hard to improve his rankings and our team rankings. As he continues to mature, both physically and mentally, he will only grow stronger.”

Oliver joined a rebuilding Hornet team in 2014, stepped into the number-one singles position and won the league and regional titles as a freshman.

His was the only regional title for the Hornets and he had to travel to the state finals with only his coach that year. He lost a hard fought match in the quarter finals to Luke Ford of Otsego.

At the end of that season, Oliver’s teammates promised he would not go to the state tournament alone, and their off season work paid off when the 2015 team earned a share of the league title and enough points in the regional to qualify.

Oliver met Luke Ford again, but this time in the championship round. On a brutally cold day, Oliver took the first set in a tiebreaker, lost the second, and they were on serve in the third when cramps took Weaver’s legs out from under him. Ford won the title 6-7(3), 6-4, 6-3.

With ten of the twelve starters returning, this year’s Hornets won the league title and Oliver had two singles players and two doubles teams accepting gold medals by his side as they raised the team trophy at the regional tournament.

In the state finals, nearly every flight won points for the Hornets, but only Oliver remained in the tournament at the end of the first day.

Before he could reach the championship round, Oliver went up against a familiar face in the semifinals – Vincent Orlando. The son of MSU tennis coach Gene Orlando, and top singles player for cross-town rival Lansing Catholic. was across the net from Weaver for the fourth time this season.

They met in a league regular season match, in the league tournament finals and in the regional finals.

“Oliver had six straight wins over Vince, going back to last season,” said coach Schwarzbek, “but you could see Vince gaining ground in every match.”

Evidence of his improvement showed in their battle for the regional title which Weaver won in a second set tiebreaker. “I have a lot of respect for his game,” said Oliver. “Every time we play, it’s a slugfest. He’s been my biggest challenge all season.”

Weaver opened the semi-final against Orlando with two quick breaks of serve and held on to take the first set 6-2. Oliver grabbed a 4-2 lead in the second set, but Vince fought back, running off four straight games to take the second set 6-4. Oliver came out swinging in the final set, took a 4-1 lead, and closed out the set and match 6-1.

In the finals, Weaver faced the number six seed, Austin Koenes from Grand Rapids North Pointe Christian. Koenes had already scored upset victories over the three seed from Ann Arbor Greenhills and the two seed from Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett.

Koenes had also survived a three set battle in the semifinals.

Weaver took the first set 6-4, and his conditioning and stroke production carried him to a 5-1 lead in the second. With Koenes serving at love-40, Oliver chipped a backhand return, Koenes reply fell short into the net, and Weaver concluded his three-year quest for the title with the trophy in hand.

“Last year, I lost in three sets,” said the Hornet junior. “It was a tough match and I was really upset about that. I was really motivated to win it this year, and I’m really happy with how I played today.”

Weaver’s 2016 title makes him the fifth Division 4 champion from the CAAC White league in the last seven years.

Paul Heeder of Lansing Catholic started the string in 2010, followed by Chance Conley of Portland in 2011, and Michael Sienko, another Williamston Hornet, in 2012. Matt Heeder of Lansing Catholic continued the streak in 2013.

The Hornets accumulated points in seven of the eight flights and ended the tournament with fifteen, tied for fifth place with Grand Rapids Catholic Central. Whitehall, the only other public school to finish in the top ten, earned 22 points and a tie for third place with Traverse City Saint Francis.

University Liggett won the team championship with 32 points. Lansing Catholic earned seven points and a ninth place finish. Portland was the third qualifier from this region but did not win any matches and tied for 20th place.

Oliver Weaver slams a forehand in the Division 4 State Tennis Championships on his way to the singles title Oct. 15.

Oliver Weaver slams a forehand in the Division 4 State Tennis Championships on his way to the singles title Oct. 15.