Confidence builds as Pilots head to state tennis finals

ANN ARBOR, Mich. - De La Salle Collegiate coach Matt Fisher has seen the Pilots' tennis program grow since he arrived at the beginning of the 2018 season. 

Last year the Pilots qualified for the state tournament after beating out the host at the Division 2 regional at Grosse Pointe North. Taking things a step further, Fisher's team completely dominated this year's regional tournament, winning seven of eight flight championships. 

So what's next for the Pilots? How about a return trip to this weekend's state finals in Ann Arbor?

"The boys and I are excited to be back at the MHSAA state championships," said Fisher, who has seven seniors in this year's starting lineup. "This year we feel way more prepared for these teams because of the competitive schedule I made my team endure the past few months." 

Last year, the team finished 18th overall, winning a pair of doubles matches. That doubled the number of wins the Pilots had at the 2017 finals.

Entering this year's tournament, Fisher is confident his team can take a big step forward. 

"My overall expectations for the team will be 7-10 points," he said. "At regionals, every doubles flight won very close, pressure-filled matches. I am confident we can hold serve deep in sets, not play tense and play smart tennis."

The draws, which were released on Tuesday, look pretty favorable for Fisher's squad. 

Six flights received first-round byes and have an opportunity to score well with winnable second-round matchups.

Senior Robert Shiner received a bye at No. 1 singles and will face the winner of the match between East Lansing's Zach Kleineman and Allen Park's Everett Czajka. Shiner was the lone Pilot to win a match at states two years ago. He feels the experience of having been here before - as well as facing a tough schedule this year - will help the team in its quest to better its finish from year's past.

"Playing better competition is the best experience you can get out here, playing players who are better than you," Shiner said. "This team is as prepared (for states) as I've ever seen in my four years here. 

"I just want to go as far as I can. I think it would be great for everyone on the team to win their first match. I have confidence in the whole team. Our doubles swept regionals - so I have confidence in them."

De La Salle's doubles teams have been playing extremely well lately, but do face some stiff challenges on Friday. The No. 1 doubles team of seniors Andrew Janusch and Paul Didio received a bye and will face Fenton in the second round. The winner would most likely then face the 2-seed, Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern.

At Nos. 3-4 doubles, the Pilots received byes and will both face Portage Central - both of which received six seeds - in their first match. Fisher is confident in both teams.

"(At No. 4) Matt (Kostuch) and Luke (Boldman) are 7-1 since I solidified their spot," Fisher said. "Their only loss is to Cranbrook. These guys can take down the 6-seed and play best when playing tougher teams.

"And (at No. 3) Parker (Kuchulan) and Deven (Sheth) won a close regional final and do not fold under pressure, always winning the close matches. I have confidence they can earn us two points."

At No. 2 doubles, seniors Gabriel Kirck and Matthew Zanotti also face a tough challenge. They did not receive a bye, and play unseeded Portage Northern in the first round. The Huskies are the seventh-ranked team in the state.

"I have confidence in my best doubles team to get past Portage Northern," the coach said. "This team attacks the net stronger than any team I've coached. I'm hoping these guys have a good serving day because they are always breaking serve on other teams."

In singles, juniors Joseph Janusch and Alek Beginin each received a bye, with Janusch set to face Seaholm's George Vukovic and Beginin matched up against Flushing's Cameron Gray in the second round. At No. 4, junior Stephen Lubera will play Traverse City Central's Will Galsterer in his first round match.

All singles play will be held at the University of Michigan on Friday, while the doubles will play at Ann Arbor Pioneer High School. First round action is set to begin between 8:30-9 a.m. Those who make it into the semifinals will return on Saturday, where all play will be held at the University of Michigan.

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