BLOOMFIELD HILLS – When the decision was made to consolidate Bloomfield Hills Lahser and Andover high schools a couple years back, little was known about how it would directly affect the athletes.
It was a sensible business decision. And on the surface, its athletic teams would certainly benefit, combining all that talent into one varsity team in each sport. But Knights playing with Barons, would it really work?
Coach Greg Burks is starting to find the answer to that question on the tennis courts. The former Lahser, and new Bloomfield Hills coach had some doubts himself when reality hit and he was given the position.
“Initially I thought there would be a couple roadblocks here and there just because of the two combining schools,” said the coach, who had coached at Lahser eight years prior to the merge. “To be honest, I thought it would work OK. I thought whatever would happen would work itself out within probably tryouts, within maybe the first week after tryouts.”
Bloomfield Hills is one of the deepest communities, as far as tennis talent is concerned, in the state. Combining two high schools which are regularly among the top-10 in the state into one would certainly limit opportunities on the court. It could have possibly created tension among the students, seeing their old teammates cut from the program because their simply was not enough room for everybody.
“I’d be lying if I said, on both sides, that there wasn’t some controversy,” said Rohan Sinha, a senior co-captain who played for Lahser last year. “Obviously, we didn’t want (to combine) at first. There was this dreading of the combining.”
As the 2013-14 season drew closer, the imminence of the situation became abundantly clear to everyone involved. That was especially true for senior co-captain Dylan Deitch, who was at Andover the past three seasons.
“I don’t even know the word to describe it. Upsetting?” Deitch said. “Maybe frustrating, anxious, a little, just to see what was going to happen. It was going to be my senior year. I think the only way to understand it is if you’re a student. People don’t realize from the outside the true difference of the schools. People just think, ‘Oh it’s just across Telegraph, it’s no big deal.’ But it really is a different group of students.”
Add to that the fact that Deitch would be moving from the Andover building to Lahser – which is the temporary home of Bloomfield Hills High School – to attend school, coupled with the fact that both his tennis and varsity basketball coaches were former Lahser coaches, and the transition was all that much more difficult.
“They kind of threw us right into the fire,” Deitch said. “Having like 40-plus kids at tryouts, it was kind of overwhelming right at the start.”
“It always used to be, for us Lahser guys, ‘We’ve got to beat Andover.’ They were always our target and we were always theirs,” Sinha said. “Now, it’s all about trying to move on from that. We need to take the pros from that. Double the kids, double the talent. We’re just embracing that and realizing we can make a run at states if we band together.”
The way things have shaken out, it’s a nice blend of Andover and Lahser talent. Both teams were going to be hit hard by graduation last year. Instead, the merge brought back 10 starters (from both teams), giving Burks a nice base to work with. Add to that the addition of two top-notch freshmen, and the Black Hawks were suddenly a team to contend with.
Sophomore Gilbert Chen and senior Connor Long – both of Andover last year – returned and are members of the Black Hawks’ singles lineup. They are joined by freshmen Josh Mukherjee and Brad Silverman – both ranked USTA players. Mukherjee, ranked No. 1 in the state among freshmen by Tennisrecruiting.com, is at the top of the team’s lineup.
The doubles lineup is where you really see the blend of Lahser and Andover talent. Deitch – who played No. 1 doubles last year for Andover – is paired with senior Matt Meehan, formerly of Lahser, at 1-doubles. Seniors Cameron Peres and Ben Weisberg, both Andover products, are playing 2-doubles, while Sinha and another former Knight, Luke Ross, are at 3-doubles.
Rounding out the starting lineup are seniors Steven Teitelbaum (Lahser) and Alex Donnelly (Andover). Jarrett Black, Charlie Metzger and Pierre de Smet (Lahser products) and Sidd Ramanthan, Zach Gerndt and Jack Lord (Andover) are also on the team.
Bloomfield Hills – which is ranked No. 8 in Division 1 – has seen its share of ups and downs early on this season. The team dropped a 7-1 decision to Troy to open up OAA Red play and lost to Birmingham Brother Rice, 7-0, in a match shortened by weather on Wednesday. The team looked solid at the Holly Invitational just last weekend.
“(We’re) a tight-knit group,” said Burks, who said this may be the tightest group he’s coached in eight years. “They’ve really jelled together and everybody has realized, there’s really one-common goal. That goal is to just do well, keep improving, and living up to those expectations that people have set for us. We’re been doing well, but there’s a lot of room for improvement. And I do see a lot of room for improvement coming in from almost every match, every practice.”
Oakland County Top 10
1. Detroit Country Day
2. Birmingham Brother Rice
5. Rochester Adams
7. Bloomfield Hills
8. Birmingham Seaholm
10. West Bloomfield
Jason Schmitt covers boys tennis for The Oakland Press. Email him at email@example.com, read his "In The Zone" blog here and follow our high school tennis coverage on Twitter @JasonESchmitt.