By Steve Gunn
NORTH MUSKEGON – North Muskegon’s McManus brothers have become pretty good high school tennis players over the last few years.
They’ve had the guidance of their own coach, of course – North Muskegon’s Cody Liverance, who is one of the more respected younger coaches around. They have also been tutored for years by their uncle, Whitehall tennis coach Greg McManus, who is known statewide for the consistent success of his program.
The fun factor is that North Muskegon and Whitehall are local archrivals in tennis, and two of the top contenders every year at the Greater Muskegon Athletic Association City Tennis Tournament. Last year the two teams tied for second place at the tournament, behind champion Mona Shores, and will be among the favorites again at the 2020 event on Saturday.
The McManus vs. McManus matchups began when senior Brennen McManus was a freshman at North Muskegon. The most recent clash was on Monday, when the Norse and Vikings squared off on Whitehall’s courts and tied 4-4.
Sophomore Troy McManus, North Muskegon’s No. 3 singles player, scored a point for the Norse and against his uncle by winning his match in straight sets. Brennan, North Muskegon’s No. 1 singles player, lost in a tough three-set match to Whitehall’s Ashton Trnka.
But the uncle-nephew tennis relationship began much earlier, when Brennen was in elementary school and looking for a fall sport to play. Coach McManus suggested tennis, and started hitting balls with Brennen on a regular basis, particularly in the summer.
They have continued to play over the years, with Coach McManus taking pride in helping Brennen develop his game. Troy, Brennan’s younger brother, would tag along sometimes, but was not nearly as serious about the sport back then.
Brennen kept improving through elementary and middle school, and finally reached high school tennis in 2017. That meant playing against Whitehall and his uncle several times a year. He said that was awkward at first, but is no big deal now.
“He wants his team to win, but he’s also a big supporter of us,” said Brennen, who added that he has won some and lost some against Whitehall players over the years. “It was weird the first two years, but after a while I got used to it.”
Troy has had a lot of success against Whitehall. He’s 4-0 so far, and said he doesn’t mind teasing his uncle about that.
”I always talk about how his players can’t beat me!” Troy said with a grin.
Coach McManus said the situation has always been a little awkward for him, because he’s passionate about his own team, but very proud of his nephews.
“I look forward to it and I don’t look forward to it,” he said. “It’s stressful. As much as I love watching them play, it makes it hard to coach against them.
“Since Brennen was a freshman, I told him that when he played against us, I would have my assistant coach against him. But sometimes my assistant is not around, and my guys will look for me. Finally Brennen told me that I need to coach my guys against him. He said that way, if he wins, it will mean even more.”
Last season Brennen was North Muskegon’s No. 3 singles player. He was runner-up at the GMAA tournament in his flight, and at regionals. This year he moved up to No. 1 singles, where he’s been competing against some of the top players in the state, because his coach purposefully schedules tough competition.
He has a 13-5 record so far this year, and was the champion of his flight at the Grand Rapids South Christian Quad and runner-up at the Portland Invitational.
Brennen said there’s a big difference between playing No. 3 singles and No. 1 singles, but he welcomes the challenge.
“It’s night and day,” he said. “Getting challenged every match is a lot different, but it’s good for developing my skills. I know that every match I’m going to play someone really good. I just have to bring it every day.”
Troy played No. 1 doubles last year as a freshman, and he and his partner were runners-up at the GMAA tournament. This year he made the jump to No. 3 singles, and has been doing amazingly well.
He currently has an 18-3 record and was a flight champion at the South Christian Quad and the Traverse City St. Francis Quad. He was also the regular season Coastal Conference champion at No. 3 singles.
Troy’s rapid development has been impressive, particularly since football was his fall sport through the eighth grade.
“I put a lot into sports,” he said. “Once I get into something I play it a lot, like basketball and baseball, and football before my freshman year. But I wasn’t really into tackling. I really didn’t enjoy football all that much. I like the one-on-one aspect of tennis. It’s completely on you.”
Coach McManus tracks both of his nephews’ progress. He says Brennen is a more mental player who is always looking for an advantage over opponents, while Troy is an intense competitor who just shows up, gives it his all and wins a lot.
“The funny think about Brennan is that he calls me just about every week to talk about tennis,” Coach McManus said. “I’ve never had a kid talk to me that much before, other than (former Whitehall standout) Jackson VanBergen. They are the only guys I’ve had who want to discuss their matches so much, look ahead to the next one, and think about what they need to do to win.
“For the longest time I didn’t think that Troy was going to play tennis in high school. He’s naturally gifted. He’s the better overall athlete. He’s more in the moment when he plays. When the time comes, he’s like ‘This is my game, I’m going to take it to him.”
Liverance, North Muskegon’s coach, said the brothers are great to have on the team.
“They are very hard workers at anything they put their minds to,” he said. “I have had both in the classroom, and they are phenomenal students. They take school super seriously. These guys are so driven and they love to compete. Both of them would tell you that tennis is not their favorite sport – they like basketball more – yet they are two of the three best tennis players I have.”
Liverance says their uncle’s influence on their skills is obvious.
‘Just talking to them, they will say ‘My uncle thinks I should work on this, or concentrate on this type of shot,’” he said. “It sounds like there’s a lot of conversation about what they can do to improve their games.
“It’s funny. We will have matches against Whitehall, and Greg will stop coaching his team for a minute or two and give his nephews feedback. It’s a really cool dynamic.”
Coach McManus says he communicates with Coach Liverance about the brothers’ development.
“I talk to Cody and we try to be on the same page,” he said. “He understands what my vision is for them, and he’s very supportive. We kind of have a coaching partnership for my nephews.”