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By Steve Gunn
NORTON SHORES – When Steve Erny became the boy’s tennis coach at Mona Shores this year, he quickly recognized one obvious fact:
DeBruin and Gossett were No. 2 doubles partners in 2014 and won city, conference and regional championships.
Last year they were split up, with DeBruin playing doubles all year with another partner, and Gossett splitting his time between singles and doubles.
This year, with their partnership restored, they have dominated the area in No. 1 doubles. They have a stellar 28-3 record and again won city and O-K Black tournament championships.
On Thursday the two seniors will try to match their sophomore success and win another regional title, at the Division 2 regional tournament at Forest Hills Central High School.
Only this time there will be a greater degree of difficulty, since they now compete in first doubles, rather than second.
“At the beginning of the year I looked at what we had, I knew they were two of our better players, and I found out they played together as sophomores and won regionals,” Erny said.
“I kind of asked the guys, and they said they enjoyed playing together as sophomores. Both could have been successful at singles, but together they are pretty dominant.”
The season didn’t start out great for the DeBruin-Gossett combo.
DeBruin strained a muscle in his rib cage in the late summer and missed the first few weeks of practice. He was back on time for the first meet of the year, which turned out to be a loss for him and Gossett.
But they haven’t lost much since then.
They have won championships at four different tournaments – the Grand Haven and Holland Christian Invitationals, as well as the Greater Muskegon Athletic Association City Tournament and Monday’s O-K Black Conference Tournament.
They won their city title in exciting fashion, beating Whitehall’s Alec Milliron and Judd VanBergen 6-4 in the first set, losing 4-6 in the second, then rebounding and winning the final set 6-1.
Two of their three losses this season were against the No. 1 doubles team from Grandville, and both matches were close.
“I kind of thought we were going to be partners again (last year), because of our success, but (DeBruin’s) doubles partner last year was pretty good,” Gossett said. “Even in middle school we played doubles together.”
Some might assume that high school tennis players would rather play singles, where all the focus is on them. But that’s not the case with DeBruin and Gossett.
“I just like being out there with a partner,” said DeBruin, with Gossett shaking his head in agreement. “He can keep me pumped up when things go wrong, instead of being alone and getting down on myself. It’s a totally mental game.”
Their coach says they make a deadly combination on the court.
“Nick has a very powerful serve, and when you combine that with Koby’s athleticism at the net, it’s a pretty good combination,” Erny said. “They both play very aggressively. They know how to play power doubles, and when they do it well, it’s tough to handle for opponents.”
DeBruin and Gossett know the competition will be tough at Thursday’s regional tournament, both for their Mona Shores team and within their flight.
Teams from 10 schools will compete, including Jenison, which tied Mona Shores for the O-K Black Conference regular season team title this year, as well as traditionally strong squads from Forest Hills Northern and Forest Hills Central.
“It just depends on how our mental game is,” DeBruin said.
The ironic part is that, even if they win the No. 1 doubles regional championship, there’s no guarantee that DeBruin and Gossett will quality for the Oct. 14-15 state finals.
In Michigan high school tennis, postseason competition is largely team-based. The top two school teams at each regional tournament qualify for the state finals, as well as the two individual finalists in the No. 1 singles flight, regardless of their schools.
But nobody else can go. That means regional champions in No. 2, 3 and 4 singles and No. 1, 2, 3 and 4 doubles could conceivably be done for the season, if their teams don’t finish first or second overall.
It’s quite possible that the Mona Shores team could finish first or second at regionals and qualify for state. But if that doesn’t happen, DeBruin and Gossett will have to put away their racquets, even if they win their flight championship.
“It’s been this way ever since I can remember,” Erny said. “It’s too bad. Lots of times the (No. 1 flight) doubles players are the second or third best players on a team.”
DeBruin and Gossett aren’t fond of the system, either.
“It could be just like our sophomore year, when we won regionals but didn’t make it to state,” DeBruin said. “I never have gotten that.”
‘It’s very frustrating, especially when you know you can compete with other players at state,” Gossett said.
REGIONAL TENNIS TOURNAMENTS INVOLVING LOCAL TEAMS:
Division 1, Thursday at Holland – Grand Haven.
Division 2, Thursday at Forest Hills Central – Mona Shores, Reeths-Puffer.
Division 3, Thursday at Ferris State University – Fremont, Fruitport, Ludington, Spring Lake.
Division 4, Friday at Traverse City St. Francis – Whitehall, North Muskegon, Muskegon Catholic, Western Michigan Christian, Grant.