Dow High coach Garrett Turner may have the fourth-ranked girls’ tennis team in the state, but he’s taking nothing for granted — not the Chargers’ Saginaw Valley League title they won last week, nor the Division 1 regional title they’re hoping to win this Thursday.
As Turner pointed out, the competition has been pretty good, and it’s only going to get better.
“The Valley (championship) is a pretty big deal, and to win it for as many years as we have is pretty cool. We have a lot of teams (in other sports) that win the Valley sporadically, and some have never won it at all, so to see that in tennis is pretty cool,” said Turner, whose Chargers won their 23rd straight SVL crown last Thursday.
Not that it was easy, although the Chargers won all eight flights in the league meet.
“We played Grand Blanc in all of the flight finals. They were big matches, and we won them, but it was not easy. We had a couple of matches come down to three sets, and we had a couple of matches where we were down early and came back and won,” he noted. “Grand Blanc is a good team, and they’re going to be a good team in the regional coming up, as well.
“I think that Grand Blanc and Traverse City Central will be two of the top teams there. It should be good,” added Turner, whose Chargers will host Thursday’s regional at the Greater Midland Tennis Center from 9 a.m. to about 4 p.m.
Turner said one of his focuses this week will be making sure his players are ready to perform in higher temperatures.
“It will be an important week of practice, because Thursday is supposed to be in the mid-80s. Last Thursday at the Valley meet was a test for the girls, because they weren’t used to playing in that heat,” he said. “When you play three matches in a day in that heat, you can tell that everyone was kind of lacking the typical energy you’d see in a finals match.
“We have to work on staying hydrated and taking care of ourselves, so that we have something left in the tank when the finals roll around,” he added.
Dow is led by senior Zoe Angell, who is 17-0 at No. 1 singles, is the top seed in the region, and is expected to be as high as the No. 2 seed in the state tournament, which would make her the highest-seeded No. 1 singles player at state for Dow during Turner’s tenure.
“She’s done well. She’s worked hard this season, and she’s had a couple of three-set wins that she pulled out,” Turner said of Angell. “Her work habits are amazing. She studies the game really well and studies opponents and knows how to play different girls, and she’s just an incredible thinker on the court.
“If I talk with her during a changeover, she knows exactly what she has to do to win,” he added. “It’s just a matter of putting the game plan together and doing it.”
Junior Savannah Matuszewski is 16-1 at No. 2 singles and is also the top seed in the region.
“She’s a really well-rounded player. She can hit with any of the girls and handle their pace, but she also mixes it up with lobs and spins and all sorts of things,” Turner said of Matuszewski. “She has a lot of different weapons she can use.”
Junior Laura Leiti is 18-0 at No. 3 singles and is the top seed in the region.
“She’s just a hard hitter. She goes out and hits it as hard as she can and is usually very successful with that,” Turner said of Leiti, adding with a laugh, “She’s super bubbly on the court. The girls she’s playing often can’t believe what’s going on. They’re like, ‘She’s so nice, but she’s crushing me.'”
Junior Claire Earley is 13-3 at No. 4 singles and is the top seed in the region.
“She’s similar to Savannah in that she’ll mix it up a lot of times, and she likes to come in to the net quite a bit,” Turner said of Earley. “She’s a really strong doubles player, as well. If given the chance, she likes to put volleys away. She can hit really hard, hit it with spin, and she’s an all-around good player.”
Dow’s No. 1 doubles team of senior Emily Telgenhoff and junior Mallory Matthews is 14-4 and is expected to be the top seed in the region.
“They work together really well. Emily hits with a lot of spin, while Mallory is very strong from the baseline, but the best thing is that they just work well together,” Turner noted. “They feed off of each other. They’re both pretty meek and mild, but they work together quite well.”
The No. 2 doubles team of senior Salma Elsaadany and junior Olivia Cross is 9-4 and is expected to be the second seed in the region.
“Salma hits it very hard, and Olivia is more of a consistent player. Salma will often end the point, if possible, and she’s taller, and it’s harder to get it past her,” Turner said. “Olivia is just the consistent one, and they have pretty good communication, and they feed off of each other pretty well.”
The No. 3 doubles team of seniors Dana Winslow and Andrea Vargas is 9-8 and is expected to be the second seed in the region.
“They also get along really well. They were partnered at No. 5 doubles (as reserves) two years ago,” said Turner. “They definitely don’t have as much experience playing on varsity, but they’re learning a lot. They’ve played teams in the area but had never traveled as much and played against the bigger names.
“It’s been a good experience for them to play some higher schools lately and work on emulating the things (those top teams) do,” he added. “They’ve been growing as the season progresses.”
The No. 4 doubles team of senior Elise Ingalla and sophomore Maggie Nelson is 6-6 and is expected to be the top or second seed in the region.
“This is their first year on varsity. Elise played JV a couple of years ago, and Maggie was in eighth grade two years ago, but I feel like they’ve really been learning a ton over the year,” Turner noted. “They’re like a sponge, taking things in and learning technique and strategy. They’ve had moments where I think they’ve surprised themselves.
“This past weekend, they lost to (sixth-ranked) Grosse Pointe South, but it was in a third-set tiebreak. They’ve put together some good matches, and they’ve grown,” he added. “I think they’re a dark horse team that can keep getting better and maybe surprise some people.”
If Dow finishes in the top two at Thursday’s regional, as expected, and advances to the state tournament in the Lansing area on June 4-5, Turner said he thinks the Division 1 championship could be up for grabs among a number of teams, his Chargers included.
“I think our singles are going to be seeded very high. Ann Arbor Pioneer is ranked No. 1 in the state, and their singles players are all ranked very high, but we’ll be right there with them (in singles),” he said. ” … In doubles, we’ll hope that we can get in a position to maybe win a match or two, and, when we get up against a seeded team, we’ll give it our best shot and see what happens.
“The No. 2 through 7 teams are very close. It will be fun to see how everything shakes out,” he added. “I think there is a lot of parity in our division this year. We’ve lost to the No. 2 team 5-3 and tied the No. 4, 5, and 6 teams.”
Turner admitted that it will be “different” not having the state final in Midland this year.
“We’re used to playing in Midland, but they’ve moved the state tournament to Lansing for Division 1. They’re going to start rotating sites, so we’ll have it here once every four years or so,” he said. “I’m not really quite sure what to expect as far as how we’ll be (compared to the other finalists). We’re used to being in the same site every year, being able to follow each other and cheer for each other, but this year it’ll be spread out over a couple of sites.”