GPS girls tennis boasts solid doubles and focused squad heading into state tourney

By: Sue Teggart | Grosse Pointe Times | Published May 17, 2011

 Grosse Pointe South freshman and No. 1 singles player Brooke Willard returns a ball during a match against Farmington Hills Mercy. The Blue Devils will host a regional beginning at 9 a.m. May 19.

Grosse Pointe South freshman and No. 1 singles player Brooke Willard returns a ball during a match against Farmington Hills Mercy. The Blue Devils will host a regional beginning at 9 a.m. May 19.

Photo by Deb Jacques

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GROSSE POINTE FARMS — Despite losing seven seniors from last year’s team, Grosse Pointe South girls tennis hasn’t missed a beat.

The Blue Devils were ranked No. 6 in Division 1 by the Michigan High School Tennis Coaches Association’s May 9 poll and are playing some of their best tennis of the season as regionals approach.

On May 9, South made quick work of Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett — the D-4 defending state champs and ranked No. 10 in the May 9 poll — winning 8-1. Two days later, the squad tied Utica Eisenhower 4-4 to clinch a share of the Macomb Area Conference Red Division title with Port Huron Northern, finishing 2-0-2. At press time, the squad was 6-1-3 overall.

In other action leading up to the state tournament, South beat Farmington Hills Mercy 8-1 and tied Ann Arbor Pioneer 4-4. South also won the 5th Annual Apple Orchard Invitational in Romeo with 21 points.

“This is how much we’ve improved: We lost to Mercy earlier in the year in a tournament 5-3, and we turned around and played them in a dual and beat them 7-1,” said coach Mark Sobieralski. “It was nice to come back and win. It was the same week we tied Pioneer and then won the Romeo Tournament.

“Playing that Pioneer match was like playing at states,” Sobieralski continued. “The intensity was great. We could really see what it takes if you want to succeed. You have to bear down mentally and deal with all the issues going on. The girls played well and have some confidence heading into the regionals.”

Senior Julie Wittwer said the Blue Devils have grown with experience.

“With tennis, getting better just comes with experience,” said Wittwer, who plays No. 1 doubles. “These matches get so intense that you have to learn from experience how to play the tough match points and how to close out a match. Every match, I see improvement.”

Tournament time
The history-rich South squad, which has won its regional every year but twice since 1993, enters the tournament as the favorite. Sobieralski said mental toughness would be a factor.

“I always tell the kids high school tennis is 80 percent mental and 20 percent physical,” Sobieralski said. “It’s so mental this game. It’s a very unique sport, because in most sports when you’re throwing the ball away, they’ll take you out and put someone else in. But in tennis, whether you’re hitting good or bad, you have to finish that match.

“We try to teach them to stay positive. You’re going to make some errors, but don’t get down,” Sobieralski continued. “All I expect is for them to keep their mental self. The biggest thing we worked on is being smart, picking out weaknesses. When you have a young team, these are the things they have to learn.”

Wittwer agreed.

“I’m really big on confidence,” Wittwer said. “If you’re confident, you’re going to play so much better. Even if we go up against these hard teams — like Pioneer, who we tied, and they won states last year — we have to realize that we do have the ability to play against these top teams.”

Sobieralski said over the course of the season, the Blue Devils learned what it takes to win.

“We had to learn a lot,” Sobieralski said. “There were growing pains a little bit in the beginning. Julie is a great captain, so through her we explained the tradition and our top competition — the expectations. We tried to explain to them why certain competitions are important and how it relates to seeding at states.

“Our No. 1 goal is to do well at states; it always has been. A good goal for us this year with losing as many people as we did is to finish in the top 5.”

South will host a regional tournament at 9 a.m. May 19 at various sites. Contact the host school for more information.

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