by BRYAN EVERSON
To little or no surprise, Eisenhower’s first singles starlet led the school to victory in its opener Wednesday afternoon.
After inclement weather forced an opening quad competition to be canceled before spring break, the Eagles were able to finally get their season underway under mostly sunny skies and fair conditions, and managed to triumph 6-2 over Rochester Adams.
Singles No. 1 Ava Thielman was, as expected, one of the first off the court, taking her sets by scores of 6-1 and 6-0.
The return of Thielman, a senior committed to Michigan State, is a big reason why Eisenhower might not be a bad bet to again capture a regional championship. It’s taken the two eventual MHSAA Division 1 state title winners in singles to keep her from winning it as a sophomore and junior — 2015 Miss Tennis winner Davina Nguyen (Utica), and nationally ranked now-sophomore Anika Yarlagadda — and there’s no reason she won’t be a force again for Ike.
“She’s been one of the top players in the state since she’s been a freshman, and it makes your team a helluva lot stronger when you have her coming every day,” Eisenhower coach Mike Pearson said. “You know you’re probably going to get a win [in first singles] every single time she plays. She’s only lost in the last two years, I think, three times, and a couple of them in the state finals.”
“She works so hard and takes her lessons every night and competes against the top players in the state all the time down in Birmingham. Ava’s a phenomenal player and a great kid, too.”
The commitment level from Thielman, along with experience, helps set her apart from the rest of the pack.
“I know she started playing when she was four, and was big into USTA (United States Tennis Association),” Pearson said. “She still plays top level tournaments all the time. In the summer, [she and her family] travel out to Florida, she’s played out in California, too, I think. She’s playing against high-level players a lot. Ava’s playing at Michigan State next year on a full ride and will be hopping into that lineup somewhere high up I’d guess, and she’s worked for it.”
“She usually takes a lesson after her matches every night. She’s supportive of the team and overall a fantastic kid to have.”
It’s not as if she’s all that’s left from last year’s regional champs who are set to reload rather than rebuild.
“We pretty much return everybody from last year, except we graduated Taylor McLaughlin from second singles who’s playing at Saginaw Valley now,” Pearson said. “But we return Zuzanna (Lutrzykowska) who’s moved up to second singles. Isadora (Dimovski) went from fourth singles to second doubles.
“In first doubles, Julia (Georges) and Karolina (Lutrzkowska) are returning regional champs and finished top-8 in the state last year. They’re the anchor to our doubles lineup and worked hard in the off-season, too. They were taking lessons, hitting one or two days a week, and you can definitely see it. They’ve got great team chemistry and play well together.”
Ranked top 10 in the state last year and back-to-back regional champs, the bar is high for Eisenhower in regards to playoff aspirations.
“Going for a three-peat this year is our number one goal, along with obviously qualifying for states again as a team,” Pearson said. “We’re focused. Every match we’re going to work on improving our skills and getting ready for regionals. Everything up to that is just fine-tuning things in practice and seeing what we can work on to grow throughout the season.”
SINGLES RESULTS: Eisenhower senior Eva Thielman d. Quinlyn Jacobs, 6-1, 6-0; Adams junior Dania Jaamour d. senior Zuzanna Lutrzykowska, 2-6, 6-2, 6-2; Adams senior Erika Vonbehren d. freshman Wiktoria Szemraj, 3-6, 6-4, 7-5; Eisenhower sophomore Clare Henry d. Caroline Pittel, 6-2, 6-4.
DOUBLES RESULTS: Eisenhower junior Karolina Lutrzykowska and senior Julia Georges d. Kate Roberts and Helen Dong, 6-0, 6-1; Eisenhower sophomores Isadora Dimovski and Samantha Souder d. Maria Pencu and Sydney Lovalvo, 6-1, 6-2; Eisenhower seniors Katie Gialloreti and Casey Novak d. Emma Hauberg and Joanna Zhan, 6-4, 6-3; Eisenhower junior Morgan Beleck and freshman Paige Nicholson d. Nadia Khan and Lillian Yang, 6-2, 6-1.