West Bloomfield Frankel Jewish Academy’s state semifinalists show off their medals Oct. 21 at Hope College, from the left, Harry Shaevsky, Robbie Feldman, Tony Carson and Brandon Witt.

West Bloomfield Frankel Jewish Academy’s state semifinalists show off their medals Oct. 21 at Hope College, from the left, Harry Shaevsky, Robbie Feldman, Tony Carson and Brandon Witt.

Photo provided by Larry Stark

Frankel Jewish Academy boys tennis team makes history

By: Jonathan Szczepaniak | West Bloomfield Beacon | Published November 15, 2023

WEST BLOOMFIELD — The Michigan High School Athletic Association Division 4 Boys Tennis State Finals is a date the West Bloomfield Frankel Jewish Academy boys tennis team has regularly circled on their calendar, and for good reason.

For the past 10 seasons, Frankel Jewish Academy has qualified for the state finals eight times, but this year was unlike any other.

Holding a 9-1-1 record this season, the 2023 team became the first FJA team in school history to win both the Catholic League and qualify for the state finals.

“From the very beginning I said this team was very scrappy and hungry,” FJA coach Larry Stark said. “We had five seniors, four in the starting lineup, but they got along really well and went to work. When they started practicing, you could tell the chemistry was forming right from the beginning.”

In a school of less than 150 students, it’s difficult to field a team, let alone one that consistently performs at a high level, especially with players consistently graduating.

One massive graduation class could diminish a team’s following season, but leaning on their team captains and seniors this year, FJA made sure they picked up right where they left off.

“What I was telling people is the reason it was so remarkable was that we lost seven of our starters from the previous year,” senior captain Harry Shaevsky said. “We kind of knew it was a younger team, so there wasn’t too many expectations coming in and there wasn’t too much to expect of us. The other teams kind of knew we were young, and it was supposed to be a rebuilding year, so to speak. I think we were a very cohesive unit, and I think that’s what definitely helped. I tried to preach to the team, so to speak, that it’s not really, and with the teams we play and the level we play at, yes, talent matters, especially at the state tournament level, but a lot of it is dependent on how much effort you give, your devotion and your determination for the team.”

On Oct. 21 at Hope College, FJA capped off their history-making season with another historic feat at the MHSAA Division 4 State Finals, earning their highest state final placement ever with a seventh-place finish out of a field of 24 teams. Frankel Jewish Academy finished 14th at the 2022 MHSAA State Finals.

Senior team captains Tony Carson (3 singles) and Shaevsky (4 singles) led the way for FJA in their final high school appearance, reaching the semifinals in their respective flights.

Carson, who was the sixth-seed in the bracket, earned a quality win over No. 3 seed Jack Stidham from Ludington before being eliminated. Shaevsky earned wins over the bracket’s No. 6 and No. 3 seeds before being eliminated.

Shaevsky has been involved with the FJA tennis program long before his high school career, watching his older brother Benny, a 2020 FJA graduate, play for coach Stark.

It was then that Shaevsky got a first-hand look at the FJA tennis program.

“Watching those matches with the community, the energy, and the excitement, you would never know how small a school we are, how good we are or how much experience we have,” Shaevsky said. “We don’t have that much competitive experience. A good majority of our players haven’t played middle school tennis or haven’t played competitive tennis, so this is their first competitive schedule of playing organized teams. You would never (know) from when I was watching four or five years ago with how locked in they were, energized, and cheering each other on.”

While the seniors carried their weight in the singles flights, it was the underclassmen duo of sophomore Robbie Feldman and freshman Brandon Witt that stepped up in the doubles flights.

Feldman and Witt reached the semifinals round in Doubles Flight 2 before being eliminated by the top seed in the bracket. Thanks to Carson, Shaevsky and the due of Feldman and Witt, FJA added another historic element to their season with three flights making it to the semifinals for the first time in school history.

With Feldman and Witt being the youngest doubles flight and already showing promise, Stark said FJA will lean on the young duo next season.

“Brandon and Robbie just played really well together right from the get-go,” Stark said. “As a freshman, Brandon Witt came in and did unbelievably well for a ninth grader. We’re looking for big things out of those two young men for next year.”

Senior Ryan Rubin and sophomore Hudson Rosner were eliminated in Round 3 of the Doubles Flight 3 tournament.

Frankel Jewish Academy, who won a regional championship in 2022, finished runner-up in the regional tournament Oct. 11 at Ann Arbor Greenhills High School behind Ann Arbor Greenhills, who took the Division 4 state title this season. Frankel Jewish was paced by runner-up finishes from Carson (3 singles), Shaevsky (4 singles), Feldman and Witt (2 doubles), and sophomores Austin Squarcia and Louie Kowalsky (4 doubles).

Frankel Jewish Academy was able to show Division 4 tennis where the program’s potential on the court is this year, but the team’s culture is one that has been shining for years, courtesy of Stark and his wife, Monica Stark, who is an assistant coach on the boys tennis staff.

Awarded team academic all-State this year, FJA’s culture embodies selflessness with the leadership of their seniors.

“For me as a captain, if someone needed a ride, that was my job to give it to them,” Shaevsky said. “If guys weren’t showing up to practice one day, it’s my job to call and say, ‘We need you here.’ It’s not anything coach is telling me to do. It’s something that I saw from my captains when I was coming up the ranks, and it’s something I hope next year’s captains do.”

With four seniors graduating this season, FJA will look to lean on juniors Ethan Schwartz (1 singles) and Hayden Dean (2 singles) in the singles bracket next season.

Frankel Jewish Academy will look to build off its historic season with a new crop of senior leaders.

“I think this year, we kind of shifted from, OK, making states is great but let’s go out there and win some matches. Let’s finish top-10 and let’s keep pushing towards a higher finish,” Shaevsky said. “I’ve already seen text messages in the team group chat of guys who are going to be on the team next year going out and hitting at different clinics over the winter, encouraging other guys to go out and hit. Our newly appointed captains are doing that. It’s truly contagious the effort I give as a captain and the effort captains gave before me.”