By Steve Gunn
Local Sports Journal
WHITEHALL – Last year the North Muskegon girls tennis team ended Mona Shores’ recent domination of the Greater Muskegon Athletic Association City Meet.
But it was certainly close, with the Norse nipping the Sailors by six points. And Mona Shores was hurt when two singles players were forced to withdraw, costing their team precious points.
Some people wondered if Mona Shores might reclaim the crown this year.
That was not the case.
North Muskegon won its second straight city title in convincing fashion Saturday, outdistancing second-place Mona Shores 52 points to 41. The tournament took place at Whitehall and Reeths-Puffer high schools.
Taking third was Reeths-Puffer with 34 points, followed by Fruitport (33), Whitehall (31), Muskegon Catholic (18) and Western Michigan Christian (15).
North Muskegon rolled to the title by winning 5 of the 8 flights and qualifying for the championship round in all but one flight.
That’s even more impressive when you consider that North Muskegon lost six seniors from last year’s team, and all but one of the Norse players in Saturday’s championship round were freshmen and sophomores. Many of them did not even play in the city tournament last year.
North Muskegon’s only senior, Kat Tyson, won the top prize of the tournament, the No. 1 singles title, after playing doubles the previous three years.
Also winning individual titles for North Muskegon were freshman Brittany Bailey (No. 2 singles), sophomores Lexi Bailey and Molly Huisingh (No. 1 doubles), sophomores Lauren Bliss and Hannah Knight (No. 2 doubles), and sophomore Madeline Huisingh and freshman Mary Hoopes (No. 3 doubles).
Runners-up for the Norse were sophomore Paige Twining (No. 3 singles) and sophomores Emily Lindback and Tess Wilson (No. 4 doubles).
North Muskegon coach Joe Gentle said he never doubted the legitimacy of last year’s title, but also never expected this young team to do it again.
“It was very close (in 2013) and it could have gone either way, but we felt like we won that tournament last year,” Gentle said. “But to come back and do it again this year, that’s a nice surprise.
“Many of the girls played in the offseason and everybody raised their level of play. Typically a young team is going to improve more than an experienced team, because the players have further to go. But I didn’t expect them to win city.
“I have a really good group of girls. They get along very well and help motivate each other. I guess when you have that kind of chemistry it helps a lot.”
Other individual flight champions were Madison Hronek of Mona Shores (No. 3 singles), Kaitlynn Labash of Fruitport (No. 4 singles) and Tomoka Ishicka and Hannah Kuck of Reeths-Puffer (No. 4 doubles).
Other individual runners-up were Carlie Bishop of Whitehall (No. 1 singles), Anna LeBeouf of Fruitport (No. 2 singles), Bella Purosky of Mona Shores (No. 4 singles), Emily Klamp and Erika VanderLaan of Mona Shores (No 1 doubles), Ashley Dore and Emily Christensen of Whitehall (No. 2 doubles) and Zoe Kelly and Roz Swanson of Reeths-Puffer (No. 3 doubles).
Perhaps the happiest member of the North Muskegon team was Tyson, who unlike her young teammates was playing in her final city tournament.
She won a city title last year at No. 1 doubles, but never dreamed she would be able to pull off the same feat as a singles player, particularly against the top players in the area.
“I honestly never thought I could come out and be this strong at all,” Tyson said. “It’s because of my coaches. As a doubles player I was so headstrong – nobody could tell me what to do, but now I’ve opened up to being taught. The more coaching I’ve gotten from Joe Gentle – he’s awesome as a singles player – has helped me a lot.”
Tyson defeated Whitehall’s Carlie Bishop 6-2, 6-2 Saturday in No. 1 singles championship match.
She captured the first set after sweeping the first five games, then took the second after winning the first four.
Tyson won with a patient strategy – playing back on the baseline and minimizing mistakes while waiting for her opponent to make unforced errors. When Bishop cut down on errors, Tyson would strike with winning cross court shots, drop shots and overhead lobs.
Tyson was obviously as excited for her team as she was for herself.
“We definitely wanted to make a statement,” she said. “It was huge for us to come back and win again this year and prove we are a great team.”