Lakeview tennis heads to state final with help from Spanish star

Lakeview has been one of the city’s dominant women’s tennis programs for several years, with plenty of local talent leading the charge.

But the Spartans struggled to achieve their goal of statewide success.

That changed this year with help from outside the region. In fact, well outside the zone.

Paula Martinez, a foreign student from Spain, played a key role in Lakeview’s current season, which has the Spartans in the state finals for the first time since coach Jeff Van Dis took over the program.

Lakeview and teams from across the state will compete in the Michigan High School Athletic Association State Tennis Finals Friday through Saturday. The Spartans will take part in the Division 2 meeting at Hope College.

“In my seven years of training, I haven’t brought the girls to the United States,” Van Dis said. “We took the boys there, but not the girls and last year we fell short by a point. One of the goals I set for the kids, and I said to them, ‘I gotta get you there.” With the athletes we have, we have to get there and we did.

“We had additional players this year, including Paula as an exchange student, and that really strengthened our singles. And once our singles were stronger, it knocked some kids off in doubles and it made our whole team stronger.

Elise Norman of Lakeview competes in the All-City Tennis Tournament at Harper Creek High School on Saturday, April 23, 2022.

Martinez has played No. 4 singles for Lakeview all season. Sade Blackwell, a transfer from Marshall, played at No. 2. So with Elise Norman, who was the Spartans’ No. 1 for two seasons, and Aryana Banerji, who played No. 1 in freshman Lakeview was loaded.

Blackwell, Martinez and Banerji were all regional champions. Blackwell is seeded No. 6 at the state meet. Rebecca Lin and Rozy Zuun will play No. 1 in doubles for Lakeview, Mallory Kowalski and Annabelle Minneman are at No. 2 in doubles, Emme Ruger and Melissa Salinas are at No. 3 and No. 4 is Karlee Gutsue and Elise Segal.

“Last year it was just me and Ari playing 1 and 2, but this year we added Sade and Paula, and that gave us depth,” Norman said. “Once all four of us had played singles, we were pretty confident that we would be good at singles this year.

“I am really proud that we have all come together to make states. We are happy to go there.

Van Dis has had exchange students play for him over the years, but none have had the kind of impact that Martinez has. She is undefeated this season in singles No. 4 and is seeded second in the state tournament.

“When we’ve had exchange students over the years, they were always good kids, but often they were more of a beginner level,” Van Dis said. “But when I first saw Paula at the club and saw her play, I knew she was going to be different and be a big bonus for us.”

Martinez played club tennis in Spain and was looking forward to playing high school in the United States.

“I’ve been playing since I was six, but not in school,” Martinez said. “When I heard I was coming to this school, the first thing I looked for was if they had a tennis team. I was excited that they did.

“I’ve never been in a team. In club you only play for yourself. But here playing as a team was great. All the girls are super nice. It’s been an amazing experience .

Once the spring season rolled around, Martinez started hearing about the team’s goals. Winning regional or making States, all that was foreign to him.

“I didn’t really know the importance of states and what that meant. But the girls kept talking about it so I thought it was pretty important. So I just said, yeah, let’s do this,” Martinez said. “It will be fun this week. I look forward to playing more difficult matches. The harder it is, the more fun it is for me.

“When I told my parents about the States, they were really excited. I talk to them after every game. They wish they could be here to see me play. I wish they were here too.

Contact Bill Broderick at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @billbroderick.

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