Clarkston sophomore Paige Olsen hits a forehand during warmups of her match against Andover Tuesday at Deer Lake Athletic Club in Clarkston. She started the season at No. 1 doubles, paired with her twin sister, Dana. But she's now playing No. 3 singles for the Wolves, the top-ranked team in Oakland County. (The Oakland Press/VAUGHN GURGANIAN)
Tennis - Girls
GIRLS TENNIS: Lineup adjustment has made Clarkston, once again, a team to beat WITH VIDEO
Sophomore Dana Olsen (left) and senior Olivia Dunn make up Clarkston's No. 1 doubles team. The pair have lost just once since being paired together a few weeks ago. (The Oakland Press/VAUGHN GURGANIAN)
To say Gabriella Spindler's decision not to play for her high school team this spring threw a curve ball at Clarkston tennis coach Becky Freeman might be a bit of an understatement.
It was more like a splitter ... nearly impossible to hit.
Now that's saying a lot. But a lot can be said when a team is the defending Division 1 state champion and all eyes are fixated on the Wolves and their quest to repeat in 2012. Spindler was the No. 1 singles player on a team with the best singles lineup in the state. She was the anchor of the team.
But next year she'll be playing at Army (West Point), and she chose to take the spring off to concentrate on training for the fall season.
That left the team scrambling to fill a big hole in the lineup. With senior Katie Brozovich and sophomore Lexi Baylis back, the team was rock solid at the top. But Spindler's departure hurt the team's depth, and it was evident as the team lost its first two matches of the season - against Birmingham Marian and Birmingham Seaholm.
"It was a different lineup than what I had thought and we had Lexi out hurt, too," said Freeman, whose team was unbeaten in 2011. "We had people in our lineup who couldn't play. But I needed to change our lineup and make some adjustments."
The adjustments weren't minor, though. Clarkston boasted one of the best No. 1 doubles teams in the state in twin sisters Dana and Paige Olsen. The two were 23-3 last year and state semifinalists. They were set to anchor the doubles lineup once again this year.
But they are also talented singles players as well. So the decision was made to split them up to give the team more depth. Paige was moved to No. 3 singles. Dana was given a new partner, Olivia Dunn, at No. 1 doubles.
"To split (the Olsens) up was going to be devastating to them and to us, not knowing for sure who I'd be able to put with whom," said Freeman, who noted that the sisters had trained in the offseason - including paid lessons - to play doubles for the Wolves. "And, honestly, it took mom (Deanna) to look at me and say 'It's OK. I know you what you have to do.' And I just pulled the trigger."
So far, the move has made a huge difference. Paige Olsen and the team of Dana Olsen and Dunn have each lost just once (to Port Huron Northern). They've helped the team beat Andover, Cranbrook, Rochester Adams, Troy, West Bloomfield and Rochester in recent weeks.
"I knew that when Gabby didn't come out for the team that Dana and I might both move up to three and four singles, but it never really crossed my mind that Dana would play doubles and me at singles, or the other way around," Paige said. "But I think it's better for the team that we do it like this."
The move has strengthened the team's singles lineup, for sure. Freeman also moved senior Abbey Hubregsen up to No. 4 singles, a move which has once again made Clarkston's top four a much better unit.
And Dunn has transitioned well while playing up a flight from earlier this season, and two from a year ago.
"I think I've actually benefited a lot from moving up there," Dunn said. "Usually, at three doubles last year, I would overpower the teams but I would sometimes play down to their level. Being up at the level Dana is at (this year) ... it's actually made me a lot better of a player."
Though not her familiar partner, her sister, Dana said she loves playing with Dunn.
"She's like really aggressive and we're the two tallest people on the team and we're intimidating," Dana said.
Playing against Seaholm without Baylis, the Wolves lost, 6-3. Even with Baylis on that day, Clarkston would have lost the match. With the new lineup, the team has shown it will be a favorite at the OAA Red tournament next weekend. Clarkston, Seaholm and Andover all have just one league loss in match play this season. Andover beat Seaholm, 7-2, two weeks ago, while Clarkston knocked off the Barons, 6-3, Tuesday afternoon.
"Our goal is to improve every single match, on every single court, to improve and be at our prime come states," Freeman said. "We're moving in that direction, and we're getting better each match out."
Oakland County Top 10
3. Birmingham Marian
4. Bloomfield Hills Andover
5. Birmingham Seaholm
6. Country Day
8. Farmington Hills Mercy
9. Bloomfield Hills Lahser
10. Academy of the Sacred Heart
- Jason SchmittJason Schmitt covers high school tennis for The Oakland Press. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org, read his "In The Zone" blog here and follow our high school tennis coverage on Twitter @MIPrepZone.