Birmingham Seaholm's Elizabeth Gunckle (left) and Labina Petrovska have meshed well on the court this year, despite Gunckle being a senior and Petrovska just a freshman. (The Oakland Press/JOSE JUAREZ)
Tennis - Girls
GIRLS TENNIS: Seaholm's top doubles pairing of young and old has worked for the Maples this year
Seaholm's Elizabeth Gunckle (front) has served as a mentor to freshman teammate Labina Petrovska this year. Gunckle, a senior co-captain, was a member of last year's OAA-Red winning Maples squad. (The Oakland Press/JOSE JUAREZ)
Seaholm freshman Labina Petrovska (top) has played singles for most of her tennis-playing days. But she's adapted well to the doubles' game this season, thanks to the help of senior teammate Elizabeth Gunckle. (The Oakland Press/JOSE JUAREZ)
Managing a lineup from year to year can be a challenge for a tennis coach. That's particularly true at a school like Birmingham Seaholm, where talent flows in and out of the school on a yearly basis.
Thanks to club tennis, some players come ready to perform. Others develop throughout high school. Being a tennis professional himself, head coach Scott Ransome has both prepared players entering high school, while also developing them as a high school coach for the Maples.
This year, he once again has a solid team. But at the top of his doubles lineup, he's put together an unusual pairing of young and old.
On one side of the court he's got his leader, a veteran of doubles play who helped the Maples capture the Oakland Activities Association Red title a year ago, Elizabeth Gunckle. And on the other, he has a talented newcomer to the roster, freshman Labina Petrovska.
"Usually, there's a need for chemistry between partners," Ransome said. "The idea of balancing a lineup with a senior and senior, or senior and junior, seems to lend itself to one's chances of success better than a senior and a freshman. There is quite a difference between (seniors and freshmen) in terms of maturity, experience and so on.
"But in this particular case, Labina being a serious tournament player, she's already cut her teeth in competition through the USTA channel."
Ransome said that while configuring his doubles lineup, he felt that Gunckle and Petrovska complemented each other's games. And through challenge matches, the pair rose to the top.
"When it comes to maturity, Elizabeth has, and we joke about it from time to time, a little bit of a maternalistic side to her," Ransome said. "So with Labina coming up to one doubles, it's a natural fit because Elizabeth just takes over in a sense of guiding her. She helps Labina settle into the match."
Petrovska was originally in line to play one of the top singles positions on the team, but tore her ACL in a practice match back in late October. Generally, athletes rehab for six-to-nine months before returning to competitive play. Petrovska needed less than five months and was ready to start the season with the Maples.
As it turned out, it might have been for the best. The pair is 7-2 overall and is one of the strongest doubles teams in the county. Both have enjoyed playing with each other this season.
"I believe that Labina and I mesh well together," said Gunckle, who played fourth doubles last year. "She's great at the baseline with her powerhouse ground strokes and serves, which allows me to close out points at the net. When coach matched me up with her, I wasn't really skeptical about fundamentals, because she is a really strong player."
Petrovska admitted she wasn't all that experienced in doubles play, and that Gunckle has helped her adapt to doubles.
"Being a singles player, doubles was something that was entirely new to me this year," Petrovska said. "Elizabeth was the one who really helped me adjust to the new atmosphere. She is the one who really sets up the plan on how to build up the point. Elizabeth is also the one who keeps me on track mentally, tells me to smile when I miss a shot, and overall keeps both of us focused throughout the match. Being older and wiser when it comes to doubles, Elizabeth has really been a mentor to me throughout the season."
It truly is a role Gunckle has embraced this season. She's one of just three seniors in the starting lineup, along with fellow co-captain Sam Miller and Katy Shook. With such a young team, Ransome needed his veterans to step up and lead the team.
"I definitely like being a role model to Labina," Gunckle said. "I like to think Sam Miller and I can serve as role models to the team as a whole, being the senior captains. I never had a doubt that Labina was ready to play at the varsity level. She is committed to her tennis. I think that the mix of her strong fundamental tennis and my mental game and generally positive attitude is what works for us."
Seaholm has a stacked schedule this season, both in and out of league play. The team has lost to league foes Clarkston and Bloomfield Hills Andover and now faces an uphill battle if it wants a chance to defend its OAA Red title.
Sophomore Nancy Benda anchors the singles lineup, which also includes Allyson Foreman, Arielle Williams and Lauren Frazier at 2-3-4 singles. Junior Meghan Dooley and sophomore Katie Root play No. 2 doubles, followed by Miller and junior Annie Grier at No. 3 and junior Bella Leyva and Shook at No. 4. Freshman Jackie Meier and sophomore Lauren Benderoff provide depth off the bench for the Maples.
Both Ransome and his players feel they can play with any team, and hope to contend for the league tournament title, as well as a regional title and perhaps more come June.
"Although there may be pressure to defend the league title, it's nothing that our team can't handle," Gunckle said. "We have a lot of important matches throughout the month, so I think we're just going to have to take them one by one. Between a tournament this weekend, leagues and regionals in May, we have our work cut out for us. However, I'm confident in our playing and think we definitely have a shot at doing very well at the competitions."
Jason Schmitt covers high school tennis for The Oakland Press. Email him at Jason.firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @MIPrepZone.Top 10 teams
1. Birmingham Detroit Country Day
3. Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood
4. Birmingham Marian
5. Birmingham Seaholm
6. Bloomfield Hills Andover
7. Farmington Hills Mercy
8. Bloomfield Hills Lahser
— Staff writer Jason Schmitt