Lansing Catholic’s young team is improving at just the right time of the boys tennis season.
The Cougars, who dropped out of the state rankings after a second-place finish to Division 4 No. 10 Portland in the CAAC White tournament, finished runner-up to only Division 2 No. 9 Okemos in Saturday’s CAAC Gold Showcase and seven points ahead of Portland.
“I always thought we were rated a bit too high for the youthfulness of our squad, since we have six sophomores in our playing group,” said Lansing Catholic coach Ron Landfair, whose team was ranked No. 3 in the Sept. 24 Michigan High School Tennis Coaches Association (MHSTeCA) poll. “Nothing replaces the experience of going through the conference grind, the conference tournament and regionals, because you have to learn to play at a certain level.”
The Cougars will see how they fare against the Raiders, another CAAC White rival in Williamston, and seven other teams in Division 4 regional competition today at Portland. Okemos will play in a Division 2 regional at East Lansing, and other mid-Michigan high schools will play at Midland, Haslett and Grand Rapids Christian. (See Page 8B for lists of teams competing at each site.)
Sophomore Matt Heeder typified Lansing Catholic’s improvement by edging Portland senior Chance Conley 7-5, 5-7, 13-11 in a CAAC Gold Showcase No. 1 singles semifinal nine days after losing 6-2, 6-2 to the defending Division 4 state champion in a CAAC White tournament semifinal.
“It was very good match, and Matt had a chance to win it in straight sets at the end of the second set,” Landfair said. “It was good for Matt’s confidence.”
The two should meet in a regional semifinal for a likely rematch with undefeated Williamston senior Michael Sienko if the seeds hold. Sienko edged Conley 3-6, 6-2, 6-2 on Sept. 10 and 7-5, 4-6, 6-2 in the CAAC White Tournament after losing to him 6-4, 6-2 in the Division 4 state championship match a year ago, while Sienko beat Heeder 6-1, 6-0 on Sept. 18.
“Matt will have to match that level of intensity or increase it if he expects to get to the final,” Landfair said. “Those are three of the best four players in Division 4 singles, and facing one another as often as they have has raised their level of talent.”
The top two teams from each regional advance to the state finals along with any team that scores 18 or more points in a 10-team regional or 16 or more points in an eight-team regional.
Any first flight singles player who makes it to the regional final also can advance to state finals as an individual even if his team doesn’t qualify. That might be the case for Sienko.
“But I think Williamston has a good chance to reach 18 points,” Landfair said.
Even though it contains the smallest schools of the four divisions, the CAAC White showed its strength by taking second and third in the inaugural CAAC Gold Showcase that included the top two teams from all four divisions.
“That tells you about the quality of tennis played in the CAAC White,” Landfair said.