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Whitehall junior duo brings competitiveness, leadership to tennis courts

Brianna Bentz and Grace McDowell have taken captain roles seriously for young Vikings squad.

WHITEHALL – With no seniors on the Whitehall girls tennis roster this spring and only two juniors, coach Tom Sheesley knew this would be a bit of a rebuilding season for the Vikings.

At the same time, the future is now.

Juniors Grace McDowell and Brianna Bentz understand this and they have embraced leadership roles. While also trying to produce on the court at No. 1 singles and No. 1 doubles, respectively, McDowell and Bentz look to stay supportive and show the way for the younger Vikings.

“I believe both Grace and Bri take their responsibility as captains seriously,” Sheesley said. “I think to start it was tough because our team is so young and they really didn’t know the other girls. They now have become more comfortable and are doing well. It’s not perfect but getting better all the time.

“Grace and Bri will both have a pivotal role in the next year to help us improve and hopefully make a run at qualifying for state. It will be very important, as leaders, for them to make an effort to get girls out on the courts in the offseason. This will be necessary to make the gains we need to compete at a higher level.”

Whitehall competes in a challenging Division 3 regional this Wednesday at Spring Lake, joined by Coopersville, Fremont, Fruitport, Holland Christian, Hudsonville Unity Christian, Ludington, Sparta, and Spring Lake.

Whitehall finished third behind champion Ludington and runner-up North Muskegon in the five-team West Michigan Conference tournament last Wednesday at Ludington.

McDowell carries a 7-11 record at No. 1 singles and 1-2 mark at No. 2 singles into this week, while Bentz is 10-7 at No. 1 doubles with freshman Akeelah Martin and 1-2 at No. 1 singles.

McDowell, 17, the daughter of Sandi and Jerry McDowell, is a three-sport athlete who boasts a 4.086 GPA. She also competes in golf and basketball.

Bentz, 16, the daughter of Brian and Marci Bentz, also plays volleyball and sports a 3.0 GPA. She used to play basketball, soccer, gymnastics, track – “almost everything,” she said.

Even though they’ve been getting to know their teammates, McDowell and Bentz entered this season with a good amount of familiarity with each other.

Photos by Scott DeCamp | CatchMark

“I have grown up playing tennis with Brianna. We both play competitively and have always supported each other,” McDowell said. “Bri can always make me laugh and loves to randomly start singing at practices, but she knows how to put a game face on and get business done. She also will never give up and is killer at net.”

“Playing with Grace is definitely something, and I say that because there isn’t really a word to describe it,” Bentz said. “We’ve always been together, we have grown up playing against and with each other. The competitiveness we have towards each other is very intense but the bond we have is also very strong.

“I think we have a great time together no matter what so it’s always fun, but we push each other to focus and get better,” Bentz continued. “As a person, Grace is sweet but sassy so it’s always fun to be around her. I would say one of her strengths is making people laugh and have a great time wherever they are.”

They do like to have fun, but McDowell and Bentz take their co-captainship seriously.

Photos by Scott DeCamp | CatchMark

They’ll essentially get two seasons to impact their younger teammates, although as Sheesley noted, the clock is ticking on getting everybody on board and dedicating time in the offseason so they can pursue lofty goals in 2025.

Focus on attitude, effort, and body language are critical, according to McDowell.

“This season I (wanted) to develop not only as a player but also as a leader,” she said. “I want to show our team that we can be successful not just based on how many wins we walk away with, but more importantly how we carry ourselves on and off the court.”

Said Bentz: “I personally take being team captain very seriously because we have such a young team — they truly do look up to us, and just being able to, like, help them to get hyped up and ready for the matches and to push them to be the best they can during practices.”

McDowell’s long-term goals include studying medicine at the University of Michigan, where older brother Jack McDowell is currently a student, or potentially continuing her golf career in college.

Bentz would like to play a sport in college and become an early elementary teacher. She would like to teach second grade.

“I think they both have outgoing personalities,” Sheesley said about McDowell and Bentz. “They enjoy and are comfortable with people and are comfortable in their own shoes.”

Photos by Scott DeCamp | CatchMark

Lead writer for CatchMark SportsNet and Web Services leader for CatchMark Technologies.

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