Seniors Marc Sable, Matt Gerard, Chase Ghesquiere and Nolan Trepeck – four-year varsity veterans of the Cranbrook Kingswood tennis team – have one more chance to secure that elusive trophy.
In their first three seasons, they helped lead the Cranes to commendable top-four finishes at state, including last year’s runner-up effort. Cranbrook Kingswood finished seven points behind arch rival and neighboring Detroit Country Day which has won the last four Division 3 state crowns.
Proud owners of 18 state titles, the Cranes have not won since the 2010 season. The entire senior class on this year’s team would love to bring the coveted state championship back to Cranbrook Kingswood.
“Being here since we were freshmen, now it’s our last chance to play for a state title, that’s crazy and so surreal,” Sable said. “I remember thinking as freshmen what we would be like as a team by the time we’re seniors. Now we’re here with a chance (to win states) and it’s just really exciting.
“I knew we were going to have a chance this year just with our depth, and the amount of seniors and leadership that we have,” said Sable. “It’s been very exciting to see this team grow.”
Cranbrook Kingswood, an experienced, tournament-tested team which has been nearly flawless this season, is loaded from top to bottom.
The Cranes won all 15 of their dual matches, registering victories over three reigning state champs – Novi in Division 1 (6-2), Forester Hills Central in Division 2 (8-0) and Country Day (7-0-1). Counting Thursday’s regional tournament, which they won, the Cranes amazingly have been successful in 139 of the 145 flights they had played.
CK’s veteran head coach Jeff Etterbeek believes this year’s team has the desire, ability and motivation to bring the trophy back to Bloomfield Hills. Etterbeek says this team is one of the best he’s ever had.
“I thought coming into the season that we would not lose a match all year,” said Etterbeek, whose non-starters are quality players and simply add to the overall depth. “I have a lot of confidence in these guys. They’ve worked really, really hard. It’s not magic out here. You work hard every day, work hard all summer and good things happen. That’s what this group is all about.”
The singles lineup of Sable (No. 1 flight), sophomore Benji Jacobson (No. 2), junior Michael Bian (No. 3) and freshman Justin Luo (No. 4) own a combined 53-5-1 overall record.
Sable, who is 14-2, was a state runner-up last season at No. 2 singles. The Boston University-bound netter has played either No. 1 or No. 2 flight singles in each of his four varsity seasons.
“When Mark came in as a freshman, I would say he was rather mediocre,” said Etterbeek. “And he went out and played tournaments every other weekend. Got beat a lot but kept a great attitude and played through it, which is not easy.
“Now I’m excited for him. Because, look at the results. He’s one of the best players in the state,” said Etterbeek. “It was because he was willing to pay the price and work hard and play a lot of tournaments. He has a baseline game and a tenacious, competitive spirit and that’s a great combination to have.”
Jacobson, who played No. 1 singles last year, is 15-1 this season. The hard-hitting southpaw went to Kalamazoo this past summer in 16-under and won two rounds.
“Benji is extremely talented and would probably play number one on any other team in the state,” said Etterbeek. “He’s very experienced, a great competitor and I think he will be ready to take over the No. 1 position on this team next year. I think he is the best No. 2 player in the state in all divisions.”
Bian is 15-1 and Luo 14-1-1 on the season.
Impressive at doubles
Cranbrook Kingswood’s doubles teams are even more impressive.
The teams of Trepeck and Gerard (No.1), senior Steven Meng and Ghesquiere (No. 2) and sophomores Jacob Yellen and Andrew Du (No. 4) are undefeated (16-0). Seniors Brandon Karr and Colin Petzold (No. 3) are 15-1.
“I believe Mark and Benji are the best one-two punch in the state and when you take that kind of expertise at the top and carry it through to the bottom you have a great team,” said Etterbeek. “I think so far the results are proving that, but we have to finish the job and that’s what we’re here for the next week.
“It’s really fun to watch these guys as they’ve matured so much these past four years,” he said. “I’m excited for them and I know they’re excited.”
Sable said team chemistry has played a key role in Cranbrook Kingswood’s overall success this season.
“We have so many seniors. We are best friends and we are so close on and off the court,” said Sable. “I think that really contributes to the chemistry and helps contribute to our success.
“It all comes from depth on our team, from one singles to four doubles. Everyone contributes equally on this team and every position is so key and when we’re so strong at all those positions it really pays dividends in our results.
“This is a very exciting year. This is my last year and obviously I want to go out on top,” he said. “But, all we want to do is go out right now and play our best and go out and fight. We want to leave it all out on the court.”
The majority of Cranbrook Kingswood’s state championships came in the 80s and 90s when the Cranes dominated under legendary head coach Don Brown who is enjoying retirement in Florida. Besides the 2010 crown – Etterbeek’s first as boys head coach, the Cranes’ only other recent title came in 2008 under former head coach Ed Nagel.
The Cranes took the first step in its 2015 title quest by winning the Division 3 regional title Thursday. Cranbrook Kingswood, ranked No. 1 in their division, scored 31 points to win by six points over Country Day.
Cranbrook Kingswood will be favored to win the Division 3 state title Oct. 16 at Holly.
“Let’s face it, losing to DCD and being runner-up to them the last (four) years is not much fun,” said Etterbeek. “We watched them every year carry that trophy and we keep getting closer and closer and closer. We hope this is the year we can give them all they can handle, let’s put it that way.”
Order on the courts
WHAT: MHSAA boys tennis state championships
WHEN: Oct. 16-17
WHERE: Division 1 – Greater Midland Tennis Center; Division 2 – Holly; Division 3 – Holland; Division 4 – Kalamazoo College.
NOTABLE: Play begins approximately 8 p.m. each day; $5 per individual or $10 per car where applicable.
DEFENDING STATE CHAMPIONS: Division 1 – Novi; Division 2 – Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central; Division 3 – Detroit Country Day; Division 4 – Ann Arbor Greenhills