By Steve Gunn

WHITEHALL – Fruitport’s Alison Blakeman was definitely not the favorite to win the elite No. 1 singles championship at Saturday’s Greater Muskegon Athletic Association City Tennis Tournament.

She was seeded fourth, which was not surprising, because this is Blakeman’s first season playing singles. Two years ago, as a sophomore, she was part of Fruitport’s No. 1 doubles team, and the season was cancelled last spring.

Fruitport’s Alison Blakeman, the GMAA No. 1 singles city champ. Photo/Jason Goorman

But Blakeman definitely did not play like a fourth-seed on Saturday.

In the quarterfinals she rallied beat Mona Shores’ Riley Trygstad in a very long three-set match, 4-6, 6-1, 13-11. In the semifinals she stunned top-seeded Alicia Hall of North Muskegon 6-2, 0-6, 10-5 in another long match.

After six sets of tennis, it’s a wonder that Blakeman had any energy left for the championship match, but she rose to the occasion, sweeping Whitehall’s Lily Groessl, the third seed, 6-4, 6-1 to capture the No. 1 singles championship at Whitehall High School.

“I don’t know if I dreamed about winning the city tournament, but I dreamed about being a No. 1 singles players and doing big things,” said Blakeman, who was a city tournament runner-up two years ago at No. 1 singles. “I put a lot of time into it and it really means a lot to me.”

Blakeman’s upset title was even more impressive because she had to win in extremely windy, unfavorable conditions – but she managed to use the weather to her advantage.

North Muskegon celebrates on the court after capturing the GMAA city tennis title. Photo/Jason Goorman

“When we first came out it was not too windy, it was a nice morning, then we got rain and wind, and we had to deal with a ton of adverse conditions,” Blakeman said. “You can complain about them or use them to your advantage. Today I decided to use them to my advantage.

“It’s just strategy, it comes from repetition and just learning how to play in the wind, which is not easy. You can use the different angles that the wind is giving you.”

Fruitport’s Alison Blakeman jumps for a shot during the No. 1 singles title match. Photo/Jason Goorman

While Blakeman was a longshot champion, the favored North Muskegon squad lived up to expectations by successfully defending the team championship that it won in 2019, the last year the tournament was played.

But the competition was a lot closer than anyone expected. The Norse, ranked No. 2 in the state in Division 4, won the title with 43 total points, barely nipping Mona Shores and Whitehall, which each finished with 41.

Rounding out the team scores were Reeths-Puffer with 36 points, Fruitport with 29, Muskegon Catholic Central with 21 and Western Michigan Christian with 13.

The Norse won the title despite having champions in only two flights – No. 1 doubles (champions Sarah Muzzy and Gabby Gaston) and No. 3 doubles (champions Greta Goszkowski and Maryilynn Gaston).

“I knew it was going to be tight, but I would be lying if I said I thought it would be that close,” said North Muskegon Coach Cody Liverance, whose team has now won three of the last four city tournaments. “This was probably the windiest I have ever seen it. We had rain, wind, thunder, lots of challenging conditions.

“I think we are a pretty talented team, but we definitely have room to improve. You never know what’s going to be thrown at us in the next few weeks. I’m very proud of the way these girls handled the challenge today. There are going to be other challenges, and we have to find ways to adapt and get better.”

North Muskegon Coach Cody Liverance talks with No. 1 doubles players Gabby Gaston (left) and Sarah Muzzy. Photo/Jason Goorman

Other singles flight champions at the tournament were Fruitport’s Hope Busscher (No. 2), Reeths-Puffer’s Brooke Titus (No. 3) and Whitehall’s Lucy Zamojcin (No. 4).

Other doubles champions were Mona Shores’ Emily Lieb and Isabella Sobczak (No. 2) and Mona Shores’ Kyanne Hellmann and Ella Wasserman (No. 3).

Runners-up in the singles flights were Whitehall’s Groessl (No. 1), Reeths-Puffer’s Eli Loubrova (No. 2),  Mona Shores Linden Gentzkow (No. 3) and North Muskegon’s Francine Vinson (No. 4).

Doubles runners-up were Muskegon Catholic’s Andrea Sanford and Emma Maierhauser (No. 1), Whitehall’s Chloe Christensen and Mylee Boyd (No. 2), Whitehall’s Sarah VanDam and Mackenzie Hall (No. 3), and Mona Shores Sarah VanDam and Jenna Carmean (No 4).

Liverance noted that there were flight champions from five different schools this year, which he said was a major statement about the overall quality of the game in this area.

“This was a great day for girls tennis in Muskegon County,” Liverance said. “It shows we have some strong programs.”