Grosse Pointe FarmsJune 04, 2014
South tennis reclaims state title
Blue Devils win second state championship in three years
By Thomas Franz
C & G Staff Writer
Grosse Pointe South’s No. 1 singles player Raven Neely is pictured during the MHSAA Division 1 regional tournament. At the state finals, Neely advanced to the semifinals in her flgiht.
GROSSE POINTE FARMS — Grosse Pointe South tennis coach Mark Sobieralski didn’t expect a state title to come easily, but his team clinched the MHSAA Division 1 state tennis title before championship matches even began on May 31 at the Midland Tennis Center.
South earned the team title by collecting 28 points, six more than Clarkston and nine more than Bloomfield Hills.
“I didn’t think we would win by six points. Looking at the draw, I thought it was going to be a dogfight and that it would go down to maybe the last match of the tournament, and everyone just came up clutch,” Sobieralski said.
Perhaps the most clutch moment of the tournament came from the No. 4 singles flight for South, where the Blue Devils won the flight for the third consecutive year with a freshman.
Maddie Paolucci dropped the first set of a semifinal match against Clarkston 1-6, but she rallied to win in three sets, with the third set victory coming in a tiebreaker.
“That was huge, and it was a backbreaker for Clarkston,” Sobieralski said. “(Paolucci) was amazing. It looked like a No. 1 singles match where they were just blasting it back and forth. It was great tennis.”
Paolucci went on to defeat top-seed Elaina Parrillo, of Midland Dow, 6-4, 6-2 in the final.
South’s other flight victory came from its No. 4 doubles team of Ginny Hayden and Kelly Beardslee, who completed an undefeated season.
The pair didn’t drop a set throughout the tournament, but Hayden said that falling behind 4-0 in the first set of a quarterfinal match against Traverse City Central refocused the two.
“The next game, we just said to work it one at a time. Let’s get this point and go from there. We focused on that and won the set 6-4,” Hayden said. “It showed us that this isn’t anything casual; we really have to focus on each point like it’s match point.”
Hayden also described the clinching point which gave her and Beardslee their first state championships.
“The last point was incredible because it was a prime example of a doubles match. I hit a crosscourt return, the girl lobbed it up, and then Kelly (Beardslee) overheaded it, and that was it. They couldn’t touch it. It was a perfect doubles point. It was great,” Hayden said.
In other flights, Sobieralski said that Madie Flournoy’s victory over Utica Eisenhower at No. 2 singles in the first match of the tournament for South set the tone for the weekend.
“If you lose that first match, the momentum is drained out of you, but when (Flournoy) won that match, it just got everybody fired up, and then everybody scored in every flight, which we were the only team to do that. If you want to win a state title, you have to score everywhere, so that was huge,” Sobieralski said.
South also got a boost from No. 3 singles player Brooke Willard, who defeated the top seed in her flight to advance to the finals. Willard, who was seeded fourth, rallied from a set down to win the semifinal match against top-seeded Midland Dow.
South’s No. 2 doubles team advanced to the finals by overcoming a significant deficit against Ann Arbor Pioneer in a semifinal. Sydney Keller and Morgane Flournoy dropped the first set and trailed 4-1 in the second set before a remarkable rally to win the second set 7-6. They took the third set 6-3.
Collectively, Sobieralski said that his team’s experience of going to states in previous seasons paid off in a big way.
“We had four three-setters on Friday, and we won every one of them. Last year, we probably would have lost those matches because we were a little inexperienced,” Sobieralski said. “This year, all those girls are back, and having the experience of competing up there the year before, we pulled those matches out this year.”
In No. 1 singles, Raven Neely fell in a semifinal match to flight champion Davina Nguyen from Utica. Samantha Perry and Maggie Sweeney defeated Midland Dow in No. 1 doubles in a round of 16 match, while Angelica Kalogeridis and Jennifer Moy made it to the semifinals in No. 3 doubles.
“Every kid had a clutch performance. What I was happy about is that we didn’t back into it. We actually took it right to them,” Sobieralski said. “We didn’t have to hope that another team would help us out; we earned it. We went right through and did what we were supposed to do.”
This is South’s 14th state championship in girls tennis, and it’s the third title since 2008.