Members of Ludington’s boys tennis team have poured so much into the game that when the Division 4 state finals stretched deep into the night Saturday at Hope College’s DeWitt Tennis Center, it wasn’t an issue.
It was more of a sign that all of the Orioles’ hard work had paid off.
Ludington finished fifth in state with 16 points, highlighted by two players who ended as flight runners-up. Charles Kolb was runner-up at No. 2 singles and Reece Ward finished second at No. 4 singles.
Ann Arbor Greenhills rolled to the team title with 39 points, winning seven of eight flights and taking runner-up in the other. Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett was second (22), followed by Traverse City St. Francis third (19), and Maple City Glen Lake fourth (17).
Ludington coach Rob Killips said his team really wanted to finish third, but the draw worked against the Orioles at a couple of flights. He said they may have left a point or two on the court but believes all flights played well and finished the season strong.
“This has been a result years in the making. These boys have put in time and made sacrifices to get here,” Killips said. “Our summer open hitting sessions were the most well-attended of my career and they have not had a Saturday off since school started.
“They have traveled the state, played the top teams, and the payoff came this weekend. When you are there at 11 p.m. Saturday night with Ann Arbor Greenhills and University Liggett, you know you have built a team meant to compete at the highest level.”
Ludington’s No. 2 doubles team of Oliver Kolb and Ryan Higley represented Ludington well, advancing to the semifinals.
In their singles flights consisting of all seniors, the Orioles had an “incredible showing,” according to Killips.
At No. 1 singles, Robby Killips lost to the eventual runner-up from Greenhills but he had the match within 4-3 in the second set. He also defeated an Allegan opponent 6-1, 6-1, which he had previously beaten in a much closer match.
At No. 2 singles, third-seeded Kolb came up points short of winning a state championship, falling to top-seeded Teddy Staebler of Greenhills, 2-6, 7-5, 6-4. Kolb defeated second-seeded Charlie Cooksey of University Liggett in the semifinals (0-6, 6-1, 6-3).
At No. 3 singles, third-seeded Jack Stidham lost a close quarterfinal battle to his oppponent from Frankel Jewish Academy. Stidham waited 28 hours between matches.
At No. 4 singles, second-seeded Ward lost in the finals in a match that began after midnight. He fell to top-seeded Murli Pandey of Greenhills, 6-1, 6-1.
“These guys performed as they have all season and it was fun to watch,” Rob Killips said. “These four finished their careers on teams with three conference titles, three regional runner-ups, and three consecutive appearances in the state tournament.”
In doubles, Ludington’s No. 1 team of Chaz Leonard and Will James beat a tough Williamston duo before falling in a hard-fought match to the eventual champs from Greenhills.
At No. 2 doubles, Kolb and Higley lost in a third-set tie-break in the semifinals against a duo from University Liggett.
Zach Walunas and Tyler Keillor at No. 3 doubles and Jonah Bluestein and Ryder Saya at No. 4 doubles lost their opening matches againt tough opponents from Allegan and Goodrich, respectively.
“These players have earned all the results and accolades they have received. They came out of the toughest region in the state in our division, which was proven by all three teams finishing in the top five, and that doesn’t happen without the work and sacrifice,” coach Killips said.
“This is a special group of young men and I was glad to see them accomplish their goals after watching them work. And to speak even further to the character, not once during the season did anyone mention how they hoped to finish individually, but they were always focused on team goals. A very special group led by an amazing group of seniors who will be missed by the tennis program and school as a whole.”
NORTH MUSKEGON’S LUKE HALL MAKES QUARTERFINALS
North Muskegon junior Luke Hall entered the Division 4 state finals as the No. 7 seed at No. 1 singles. He had a bye into the round of 16, where Hall defeated Essexville Garber’s Bryce Talaga, 6-1, 6-1. In the quarterfinals, Hall made his opponent work but lost to second-seeded and eventual runner-up Kabir Rajendra of Greenhills, 6-1, 6-2.
Hall was the first North Muskegon player at No. 1 singles to reach the state quarterfinals since Alex Haines accomplished the feat in 2008. His individual performance was enough to push the Norsemen into a tie for 18th at the state finals, their best finish as a team since 2011.
Hall, who was a regional champion, closes the season with a 25-4 record. According to coach Cody Liverance, Hall should almost certainly earn first-team all-conference, all-area, and all-state accolades.
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