Only four tennis teams finish at the top of the state each season – and for everybody else in Michigan, there is room for improvement.
The Battle Creek area boys tennis teams hope they will experience improvement in 2016 after only one local team and one individual advanced to the MHSAA State Finals a year ago.
Coldwater fared the best of the local teams after claiming an Interstate Eight Conference title, a regional championship and a fifth-place finish at the Division 3 State Finals. But graduation losses mean many Cardinals players have greater roles to fill.
Lakeview is led by returning state qualifier Jai Banerji, as the Spartans begin a new era under first-year head coach Jeff Van Dis.
Harper Creek is expected to contend for an Interstate Eight Conference title behind an experienced lineup as well as the addition of foreign exchange student Djordje Leverda at No. 1 singles.
Both Pennfield and Battle Creek Central feature talented players, though team victories will be hard to come by without enough athletes to fill out their lineups.
Here’s a closer look at the 2016 Battle Creek area boys tennis teams:
BATTLE CREEK CENTRAL
Coach: Louis Politte (third season)
2015 Record: N/A
Top Returners: Riley Cramer, sr.; Adam Stagner, jr.; Ryder Simmons, sr.
Outlook: The Bearcats are hoping to show improvement and record their first dual victory in over a season behind their top two players from last season, Adam Stagner and Riley Cramer. Overall depth remains a concern for BCC as it seeks more players to complete its lineup.
“Our team strength is the amount of varsity matches our returning guys have under their belts,” Politte said. “Our weakness is our overall number of players. We hope to keep getting better, recruit a few more guys and record a few team wins this year.”
Coach: Brian Herr (fourth season)
2015 Record: N/A
Top Returners: Andrew Yeck; Matt Davis; Max Wilcox; Mason Bauer; Eric Calhoun; Cole Hammock; Jordan Robinson; Landen Berry
Outlook: The Beavers bring a lot of experience back from their 2015 city championship squad with eight returners to the varsity. The team is also excited about foreign exchange student Djordje Leverda of Serbia, who will play at No. 1 singles.
“Almost everyone is playing in a new flight this year,” Herr said. “We should be competitive with eight returning players. We also have exchange students joining the team at No. 1 singles and No. 1 doubles.”
Coach: Jeff Van Dis (first season)
2015 Record: 3-8-2
Top Returners: Jai Banerji; Alec Vondell; Shuma Isobe; Zane Huckaba
Outlook: The Spartans suffered a rare losing season in 2015. Lakeview hopes first-year coach Jeff Van Dis can re-energize the program as the team aims to contend in the Southwest Michigan Athletic Conference this season and beyond.
“The team is young and has the potential to be something in the years to come,” Van Dis said. “But it will take time. Out of the 12 players on varsity, 10 of them are either in ninth or 10th grade. Thus the team lacks experience. But the players are working hard and learning a new system. Our expectations are to get better each and every day so it will pay off in the future.”
Coach: John Corcoran (ninth season)
2015 Record: N/A
Top Returners: Joe Larsen; Alex LaChance; Calder LaChance; Landon Saxton; Lars Bennett; Matt Crespo
Outlook: Pennfield has some experienced players and some athletic newcomers in the fold. The Panthers would like to see their overall record improve, which would be aided by more players to keep them from voiding flights.
“We have a strong group of upperclassmen that are determined and provide good leadership, as well as some motivated new players,” Corcoran said. “I would expect us to be much more competitive throughout this season. Right now, our team numbers are low and we are hoping for some late additions to complete our lineup.”
Coach: Steve Steward (second season)
2015 Record: 5-6-3
Top Returners: Logan Kenny, sr.; Brett Sikorski, so.; Ryan Wisman, so.; Brenden Bell, jr.; Lucas Disbro, jr. Brandon Hyska, so.; Billy Balowski, jr.; Kaden Smith, jr.
Outlook: The Vikings feature a competitive balance of players who are both experienced and new. Bronson will aim to compete for a B-C-S Conference title, led by reigning league doubles champions Brenden Bell, Brandon Hyska and Kaden Smith.
“The top teams in the conference are usually Niles Brandywine, Bridgman and Berrien Springs. For us to challenge for the conference title our returners need to play solid tennis and our newcomers to progress quickly,” Steward said. “Our regional will likely be won by Kalamazoo Hackett, with the #2 spot up for grabs… Our 1-3 singles seem to be very equal in ability so I feel we will be strong there.”
Coach: Jeremy Gump (first season)
2015 Record: N/A
Top Returners: Kameron Miller, sr.; Austin Butler, sr.; Shane O’Grady, sr.; Porter Skidmore, jr.; Christian Pine, jr.; Mitchell Duda, sr.
Outlook: The Cardinals were among the top teams in Michigan a year ago, winning the Interstate Eight Conference title before claiming a regional crown and placing fifth at the Division 3 State Finals. While graduation losses will hurt, Coldwater returns some quality players from that team – including Austin Butler (first team All-State at No 1 doubles), Kameron Miller and Shane O’Grady (honorable mention All-State No. 2 doubles).
“Although the team lost its top three singles players and three doubles players from last year, we still have high expectations for this season,” Gump said. “The singles lineup is strong and has significant state-level experience. With six newcomers to the team, a top-five state finish may be difficult to repeat. However, the strength of the team over the past three years has caused some varsity caliber players to spend additional time on the junior varsity. We expect our former junior varsity players and freshman Noah Waterbury to step right in and contribute immediately.”
Coach: Paul Ferguson (third season)
2015 Record: 4-8-1
Top Returners: Andrew Buller, jr.; Cameron Wing, so.; Dalton Shaffer, sr.; Tyler Fleck, sr.
Outlook: The Rams graduated their top two singles players from 2015, but are excited about a young core of nine players who gained valuable experience in their first varsity season a year ago.
“We six or seven returning sophomores who have that first season under their belts and have shown the willingness to work hard and it has shown up in practices thus far,” Ferguson said. “The biggest strength for the Rams will be our singles’ lineup. About 2/3 of our team is interested in playing singles this year and it could take a while before finding out who fills that out… Our Doubles’ lineup is going to be better than last season, though it will take a while before figuring the final pairings. That uncertainty will probably make it difficult for flights/teams to gel early on, but we are expecting to peak overall with about two or three weeks left in the season – when it really matters.”
Coach: Bill Wisser (10th season)
2015 Record: 6-2-2
Top Returners: Drew Gilmer, sr.; Trenton Quartermaine, sr.
Outlook: The Blue Devils were among the more talented teams in the area in 2015, but they weren’t able to make it out of a difficult regional. Gull Lake hopes to change that this season, led by an All-SMAC selections Trenton Quartermaine and Eli Wisser.
“We will be a good team with great focus and drive,” Wisser said. “We lost six seniors last year, but gained about eight freshmen this year. Our team is a little younger but the guys are ready to work together to build this team.”
Coach: Kevin Brownell (ninth season)
2015 Record: 5-5-1
Top Returners: Cole Varvatos, sr.; Brady Brisson, sr.; Riley Brownell, sr.; Aidan Chapman, sr.; Camden Gardner, sr.; Liam Russell, sr.
Outlook: Expect Marshall to take the next step after finishing in the middle of the pack in the Interstate Eight, led by six returning seniors.
“I’m very excited about this season. We have six seniors with a ton of varsity experience,” Brownell said. “Last year we finished in fifth place in the Interstate 8 conference and I really feel that we can improve on that this year. Our singles will be a strong point for us, especially No. 1 singles player Cole Varvatos. We also have a very promising batch of freshmen and new players that should be able to help out right away.”
Nick Buckley can be reached at email@example.com or 269-966-0652. Follow him on Twitter:@NickJBuckley