Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett sophomore Ryan Warezak returns a ball during the annual Liggett Invitational. At press time, the Knights were 1-15-2.

Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett sophomore Ryan Warezak returns a ball during the annual Liggett Invitational. At press time, the Knights were 1-15-2.

Photo by Sarah Purlee

Despite slow start, Liggett tennis has big dreams

By: Zachary Manning | Grosse Pointe Times | Published September 25, 2018

GROSSE POINTES — There is no question that the Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett tennis program has a long history of success.

Since 1998, the Knights have won five Division 4 team state championships (1999, 2000, 2002, 2016 and 2017) and have been runner-up three times. However, this year, Liggett is going to have to battle through some adversity to reach its goal of getting back to states.

The Knights have had to overcome multiple injuries to key players, including a season-ending shoulder injury to junior Patrick Ilitch. Ilitch was the No. 4 doubles state runner-up with Victor Logan in 2017. Pair that with losing seven seniors from last year’s title-winning team, and you have some young players playing important roles.

At press time, the Knights were 1-15-2, but coach Mark Sobieralski believes his team has what it takes to get back to being one of the top teams in the state.

“We’ve been dealt with some major blows this year. We’re not even ranked in the top 10 right this second, but I think by the end of the year, we can be,” Sobieralski said. “I’ve got eight or nine freshmen that I’ve had in the lineup. A lot of these kids, they had to learn how to hit the ball, so we’ve been really struggling. Everybody comes to play us, and they expect us to be tough, but we’ve been really struggling.”

Help is on the way, however, as senior Matthew Lesha is returning from a foot injury, and senior Alec Azar is returning to the program after playing soccer. Azar was the No. 1 doubles state runner-up last year with Maddie Fozo, while Lesha was the No. 3 doubles state runner-up with Craig Buhler.

The one constant the Knights have had is sophomore William Cooksey, who won the No. 1 singles state championship as a freshman last season and wants to defend his title this year.

Though he’s just a sophomore, Sobieralski said Cooksey has emerged as a leader and has really helped the young players develop. Cooksey said his main focus as a leader is making sure his team is staying upbeat despite getting off to a rough start.

“Surprisingly, after seven senior departures, two injuries and a transfer, I am the only returning player from last year’s team, although that will change later in the season. Having said that, it is almost my obligation to step up and be a leader among the young,” Cooksey said. “I have been mainly telling them to keep their heads up after a loss, because learning to lose is essential to becoming a winner, and I think the guys are doing a good job understanding that and embracing the journey.”

Both Cooksey and Sobieralski said the strengths of the team are grit and determination. Despite being a young team, the group has a hunger to learn and get better.

Sobieralski would like to see his younger players continue to work on their strokes and make sure they are playing the game properly. However, he is very happy with the progress his team is making, and he believes his team can turn things around.

“I just like the work ethic of my kids. They bought into learning their strokes, and they’re calling me for extra time, so I think the will and determination of the team is one of our strengths,” Sobieralski said.

The Knights’ next match will be at 4 p.m. Oct. 4 at Grosse Pointe North.