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Four teams looking to repeat at state finals as regionals set to get underway

By: Ben Szilagy, October 6, 2014, 9:30 pm

Ann Arbor Huron has been the dominant team in Division 1 recently. The River Rats won the state title each of the past three seasons and entering the regional play (Thursday-Saturday) they will again be the team to beat despite their youth.
"The squad this year is pretty young, with only four players back from last year’s team," Huron coach Stefan Welch said. "That being said, I’ve seen steady improvement from them as the season has progressed. 
"Our strengths this year in comparison to the other top teams are in doubles, but our singles line-up has been competitive as well."
The doubles teams of Jason Chen and Austin Choi (No. 1), Orion Sang and Will Brenner (No. 2) and Alex Cadigan and Brenden Chen (No. 3) all have aspirations of taking home titles.
Birmingham Brother Rice (No. 3 in the state) and top-ranked Novi are hoping to upend Huron’s three-year reign atop the state and take the top spot.
"We’ve been up and down all year," Brother Rice coach Casey Cullen said. "We’re starting to show progress as the season is winding down. We’ve seen all the top teams in the state, and we know we can compete with anyone in the state."
Leading the Warriors’ in singles competition this season are senior Chase Peery (No. 1) and sophomore Jack Winkler (No. 3).
In doubles, Brother Rice also has returning state champion Brendan Dillion (No. 2 doubles last season) who’s paired with Christian Abelarde at No. 2 doubles.
As the season progressed, Cullen said he liked how those two have formed a solid chemistry.
"They started off the year slow, as they were getting used to each other, but they’ve done a great job," he said. "Christian didn’t play last year, and Brendan has embraced his leadership role and built the pair up. Christian has elevated his game, and they are one of our best teams because of it. We’re extremely happy with their progress."
Though Huron is the defending champion and Brother Rice is looking to win its first title since 2009, Jim Hanson’s Novi squad could be considered as the odds on favorite as the number one ranked team in the state.
The Wildcats have one of the best singles players in senior Tim Wang. The defending state singles champion has lost once this season, and swept some of the best competition the state had to offer during the Novi Quad tournament in late September.
The rest of Novi’s singles lineup is just as stout with junior Koushik Kondapi (No. 2), freshman Alex Wen (No. 3) and senior Andre Liu at (No. 4) suffering only a combined one loss this season.
"Our goal throughout the season has been to focus on one match or tournament at a time, enjoy the competition, and try to improve with each outing," Hanson said. "We want all of our players to play one match at a time and not get ahead of themselves. 
"The regional and state finals are always decided by the team that plays their best on the day of the tournament, and if we take it a match at a time, we should be successful."
While the chase is close in Division 1, that hasn’t been the case in Division 2 or Division 4. Both Midland Dow and Ann Arbor Greenhills have claimed team championships in consecutive years.
Dow, under the instruction of coach Terry Schwarzkopf, has won five straight championships, while the Gryphons have won the last six titles.
In Division 3 Detroit Country Day, the three-time defending state champion, is the solid favorite. Senior Blake Burstein and junior Damian Runkles (No. 1) lead a strong doubles group for the Yellowjackets, while sophomores Davis Wong (No. 2) and Michael Khaghany (No. 4) help round out a strong singles flight.
All in all the state is full of great competitors, and teams that are poised to make some serious noise this postseason. Anything can happen at the state tournament. It’ll come down to who plays well over those two days, and the draws each team receives.