The Huron boys’ tennis team came a long way in a short time with a new lineup that took a few swings to find its groove before landing in a familiar place – among the best teams in the state.
The River Rats lost seven of their 12 lineup players off last year’s state championship team. So longtime coach Stefan Welch had some work to do, but he also knew he had plenty of pieces to work with.
“We had a pretty young team coming into the season and I didn’t know exactly how the young players would do in the lineup this year,” Welch said. “But overall I was pretty happy with where we ended up.”
Where they ended up was third in the state with 22 points. Bloomfield Hills finished first with 30 points, just two better than runner-up Troy during last weekend’s MHSAA Division 1 State Finals at the Greater Midland Tennis Center. Pioneer was fifth with 20 points while Skyline finished the two-day tournament in eighth place with 11 points.
It was a long and sometimes challenging road to end among the elite in a very competitive division for Huron. But whatever it takes to get where you’re going is a path no one can fret over.
Dynasties don’t always travel the same way every year but once the River Rats found their swing, they started looking like a team that makes finishing among the best in the state an every year occurrence.
Before last year’s championship, the River Rats had finished third and fourth at the state finals in 2014 and 2015. Huron has finished among the top four teams in the state for the past 16 consecutive seasons – now that is impressive – including three straight titles ending in 2013. They were state champions under Welch in 2008 and won Class A state titles in 1996, 1983, 1981, 1980 and 1978.
During the current 16-year run the constant at Huron has been Welch.
“When Skyline came into existence it diluted the rosters a little bit from both Huron and Pioneer,” Welch said. “Ann Arbor tennis has been strong for quite some time. It’s the quality of the coaches in Ann Arbor. There are a lot of good tennis clubs and a lot of good tennis pros in the area.”
Welch said that most of his players on varsity are year-round players and that constant playing and experience pays off once they serve it up in the fall for the River Rats.
“I’m lucky to have a number of them working with me over the course of the season and throughout the off-season so I know what I have coming into tryouts most years,” said Welch, a longtime tennis instructor at the Chippewa Racquet Club in Ann Arbor. He’s been teaching tennis since he graduated from the University of Michigan in 1999.
“This season was a little odd because we had a couple of injuries and a couple kids sick throughout the season so it took some time before we could finalize our lineup,” Welch said. “I like to get my lineup set early in the season but this year was a little challenging. Once the lineup got set we did well. The team had great chemistry, they all pulled for each other and supported one another the whole way.”
The River Rats graduate three players off this year’s lineup.
The local teams dominated the Woodhaven Regional, taking the top three spots to all qualify for the state finals. Huron took first in five events and finished with 29 points to take first overall. Pioneer was first in three events and finished with 24 points to take second. Skyline finished with 19 points to take third overall, three points ahead of Saline in the nine-team regional. Ann Arbor has been a force in high school tennis for decades.
From 2001 to 2008, Pioneer ruled the tennis universe, at least the Michigan HS boys’ tennis universe. The Pioneers, under the direction of coach Tom Pullen, won eight consecutive Division 1 tennis state championships during those years.