Ranger Tennis Team Falls in First Match, Remains Confident that it will Defend State Championship

Jordan George, Editor in Chief

Sophomore Jacob Wiltjer found himself in a heated, lengthy battle on Thursday morning at Riverview Athletic Center in Northview. The returning state champion at 4 singles eventually prevailed over his opponent from Portage Central, but the rest of the Rangers were not as lucky, as Portage Central won the match in overall points.

“It was a really good match for me against a tough opponent,” said Wiltjer following his 2-set victory. “It is definitely nice to start the season with a good win like this one for me. Their whole team is stacked this year, especially in singles.”

The Rangers found themselves stacked up against one of the top singles lineups in the state, including 1 singles sophomore Bill Duo, who is recognized as the best tennis player in Michigan, as well as a top 30 player nationally.  Multiple Rangers battled hard against the Mustangs’ powerful singles players, including senior captain Cooper James, who dropped a hard-fought match at 2 singles.

“It was obviously a really tough match up today,” said James, who is playing on varsity for the fourth straight year. “I might have played the second best player in the state today, but it was good to face some tough competition this early in the year. We obviously need to improve, and I think today was a wake-up call for our younger players.”

Second-year head coach Dan Bolhuis emphasized the importance of scheduling tough competition throughout the year in order to prepare the team for intense postseason play.

“Scheduling tough competition is definitely a focus of mine,” said Bolhuis. “I have always done that, and it really pays off later in the season as we face the top teams from our division in the state tournament.”

Although they suffered a disappointing defeat in their first match of the year Thursday, the Rangers are confident that they will continue to improve and have another excellent year as they look to repeat as state champions for the first time in school history.

“We have 6 new players in doubles that are completely inexperienced when it comes to varsity tennis,” said Bolhuis. “It is all a matter of them improving day by day and becoming more comfortable. They need to learn where everyone is going to be, but that will come in time because they really haven’t played together or at this level for that long.”

James echoed Bolhuis’s thoughts about getting their young, new players comfortable.

“Varsity tennis is a different speed than a lot of our young guys are used to,” said James. “But once they get comfortable with this level of competition, they will be just fine.”

The Rangers know that there is a target on their backs because they are state champions, but that does not seem to phase many of the players, including Wiltjer.

“Our goal is to repeat and go back to back as state champions,” said Wiltjer, who also looks to repeat as an individual state champion. “We have some improving to do, but we have enough experienced players that we will be fine.”

Bolhuis hopes that the team will focus on focusing on winning the conference championship before setting their sights on the state championship.

“We know that we want to repeat, but we know that we need to go win that conference championship first. Then we can focus on the regional championship, and then hopefully go after the state championship,” said Bolhuis. “These guys know that winning the state championship again is our goal, but we have to focus on getting better every day before we can achieve that.”