By Adam Knorr
That was good enough to put the team in this weekend’s state finals, but not good enough for the Vikings.
But for Whitehall head coach Greg McManus, his team’s lackluster showing may be just what it needs going into the state finals tournament.
“Not that it was a good thing, but it seems like when you lose, you can learn more and you can get a little bit more drive going into the next tournament,” he said. “The guys played well, but they felt like they could have done a lot better.”
Thought the Vikings have sufficient talent from top to bottom in both singles and doubles, it may be the intangibles that propel them to a strong finish at the Division 4 state tournament, slated for Friday and Saturday at Kalamazoo College.
Whitehall’s roster features three seniors, all of whom are captains, and six juniors. Depth, experience and camaraderie give the team high hopes as the year draws to a close.
“This team that I have is really deep. They have a really good work ethic and they seem to get along together extremely well,” McManus said. “It’s one of the easiest and best teams I’ve ever coached.”
From top to bottom of the roster the Vikings only have one flight that has lost more than 10 matches this season. Whitehall has a winning record in all eight flights.
Junior Andy Esh, No. 1 singles, has put together a strong 27-7 campaign, and has been valuable to the Vikings in a lead-by-example fashion.
“He has incredible work ethic. It’s unreal how hard he works after every ball,” McManus said. “Coming before practice, working hard during practice and after practice, he plays every ball like it’s the last ball he’s going to hit.”
The other Viking singles players are Jacob Herbert (No. 2, 19-14 record), Connor Briegel (No. 3, 25-8) and Connor Boyd (No. 4, 23-9).
The No. 1 doubles flight of Erik Butzer and Alec Milliron have been similarly effective, posting a 30-4 record this season. They are seeded first in their flight at the state finals.
The No. 2 doubles team, Drew Bolles and Judd VanBergen, are 27-6 and seeded fifth in the tournament.
The No. 3 doubles team, Jack Zwemer and Andrew Tallquist, are 16-9 on the season.
The No. 4 team, comprised of sophomore Spencer Trnka and freshman Ben Stenglein, are an impressive 18-2, finished second in their flight at regionals, and are seeded sixth at state.
Whitehall’s 2015 strategy has been to take control of the match from the second the first serve is hit. McManus encourages his team to dominate play at the net and take the easy volley points when they come.
“Our goal in every match is to get to the net because that’s where we’re the most lethal,” Butzer said. “That’s mostly what our coach tries to tell us. That’s kind of our team motto. Everybody tries to rush the net right away on the first point.”
“I’m hoping we can finish in the top five. That’s kind of my ultimate goal,” McManus said. “Top 10 would be nice, but I really think we have the potential to finish top five.”
Ludington is the only other area team competing in the Division 3 finals.
North Muskegon’s Nick Schanhals qualified as an individual to play in the Division 4 state finals in No. 1 singles.