GRAND RAPIDS — For the first time in years, there will be a new coach on the sidelines this season for the Grand Rapids/Greenway (GRG) girls tennis team.
Lew Smiley had been a fixture in tennis circles in this area for decades as a coach and supporter of tennis. He retired following the 2019 season as head coach of the Lightning and will be replaced this season by Jen Dulong, who has been a coach in the program and was formerly a top player for Greenway, which was coached by Smiley. In past years, Dulong has served as a volunteer coach and as an assistant coach for the GRG program.
“Coaching tennis is a passion of mine, and back in the day I also coached softball with Ann Will and Dan Potter,” said Dulong. “I am not a loud, aggressive coach and I am more of a passive, quiet coach who hopefully leads by example. Tennis is a lifelong skill and I just hope that the girls will find some kind of passion and continue to play whether its college or just as they get older.
“It is very exciting to be named head coach. I have some big shoes to fill as Lew Smiley was there for many, many years, but it has been really exciting.”
Some of players who will be key to a successful season for GRG include Eva Kangas, Courtney Brandt, Claire Vekich, Abby Gustason, sisters Hailey and Hannah LaFrenier, Jordan Troumbly, Nicholle Ramirez, Taylor Skelly, Sarah Kessler, Katy Wilson, Emily Hill, and Taryn Hamling.
When asked what will be some keys to a successful season for the Lightning, Dulong said, “I hope we can get a lot of consistency with these girls, getting that ball in play and find the weakness of the opponent. It is just those little mental things that they need to work on. Moving their feet is another thing I really want to get them going on. Sometimes they are flat-footed and we want them getting on the balls of their feet and moving around. We want them to look for weaknesses in their opponents and play hard.”
The Lightning will play in the Lake Superior Conference this season, and in Section 7AA. Dulong feels Duluth East is typically a tough team and should be considered the favorite entering the season.
Helping Dulong in the coaching department are Eric Blair, junior varsity coach, and Jamie Troumbly.
Dulong said she is still waiting to hear if there will be a postseason for the tennis team this season.
“We are hoping we can get something so the girls can have a postseason whether it is a few local teams or whatever,” said Dulong. “This is a great group of girls so far. I can tell already that these girls are very kind, very considerate.”
GRG 6, Denfeld 1
The Lightning defeated Duluth Denfeld 6-1 in recent action.
GRG won three of the four singles matches with Eva Kangas winning first singles, Claire Vekich taking the second singles match and Caroline Ahcan winning the third singles match.
The Lightning also swept all three doubles matches as the teams of Jordan Troumbly/Courtney Brandt, Taryn Hamling/Hannah LaFrenier and Taylor Skelly/Molly Pierce all took wins.
Duluth Denfeld’s lone point came in fourth singles where Alayna Parhl downed GRG’s Sarah Kessler.
GRG 6, Denfeld 1
First Singles: Eva Kangas, GRG, def. Madi Watts, DD, 6-0,6-0
Second Singles: Claire Vekich, GRG, def. Kaitlyn MacMillan, DD, 6-1,6-4
Third Singles: Caroline Ahcan, GRG, def. Brooke Maciver. DE, 6-3, 7-5
Fourth Singles: Alayna Parhl, DD, def. Sarah Kessler, GRG, 6-4, 6-1
First Doubles: Jordan Troumbly/Courtney Brandt, GRG, def. Kayla Skorich/Ava Borham, DD, 6-1, 6-0
Second Doubles: Taryn Hamling/Hannah LaFrenier, GRG, def. Leah Halvorson/Adell Warmuth, DD, 6-0, 6-2
Third Doubles: Taylor Skelly/Molly Pierce, GRG, def. Grace Schlitz/Lydia Saxin, DD, 6-2, 6-0