East Lansing Girls Tennis Revels in CAAC Blue Title, Beating Rival Okemos

Print More

Courtesy of Cosette Buckberry

The 2021 East Lansing girls tennis team posing with their CAAC Blue Division championship trophy.

It’s been a long time since the East Lansing girls tennis team has had a season as successful as this one.

The Trojans won the Capital Area Activities Conference (CAAC) Blue Division championship for the first time in more than a decade this season. Along the way, the Trojans defeated dominant conference rival Okemos twice during the season — at the conference championship tournament, and in a regular-season dual match. 

East Lansing’s 6-2 win against their rival — a team that’s owned the CAAC Blue for years — was the Trojans first head-to-head win against Okemos in a dual match since 2008. Cosette Buckberry, the Trojans coach in 2021, was a player on that 2008 East Lansing team.

“We wanted to do it for last year’s team and for Cosette,” junior Ella Miller said of beating Okemos. “Cause she’s been coaching for so long and the last time we beat was when she was playing.” 

The Trojans and Buckberry have enjoyed a renaissance of a season after being sidelined a year ago by the Covid pandemic. Two talented seniors graduated from the Trojans in 2020, but in their stead a new crop of players have filled in, bolstered by an infusion of freshmen. Buckberry and the players knew their collective talent as a group, but after missing a whole year, they weren’t entirely sure what would happen. But with a CAAC Blue title secured and a second place finish at regionals in the bag, this season has at least met expectations.

“We saw that we definitely had a lot of potential as a team to do something special this year,” Buckberry said. “And then we went on to win the CAAC (Blue) itself.”

Over the weekend, the Trojans competed in the Division II state finals.In singles, senior Kristin Swisher filled her usual role playing the No. 1 flight, with junior Soussana Kimbouris, sophomore Grace Ross and senior Shems Hamdan slotting into the No. 2-4 singles flights. 

On the doubles side, the Trojans featured their normal top pairing: seniors Jillian Rowan and Mary-Kate Swords. The No. 2-4 doubles pairings, respectively, behind the top duo were: freshman Emma Mae Baker and sophomore Leah Wronikowski; senior Annelise Lebeda and Miller; and junior McKenzi McGill and freshman Erika Stokstad. 

Swisher lost in her first match at states, as did the No. 1 and No. 4 doubles pairings. The others all picked up a win before eventually losing their second matches. The Trojans didn’t exactly fare well at states, though coming up short against the best Michigan has to offer won’t mar a resurgent season for East Lansing. 

And before the Trojans ever got there, or to regionals, or even beat Okemos, they needed to figure out how good they were. 

As Kimbouris remembers things, she was pleasantly surprised by how the team looked at tryouts. With Miller and senior Annelise Lebeda coming in fresh off a basketball season, and with everybody on the team being able to practice at varying levels throughout the pandemic, she had entered the season with trepidation. 

But once she saw her teammates excel that early on, Kimbouris knew the Trojans would have a shot at a good season. 

Miller, though, remembers a slightly rockier acclimation. She and Lebeda both played on the Trojans girls basketball team that made a deep run into the state tournament. After the basketball season ended, Miller and Lebeda took to the tennis court to hit the ball back and forth at least once before the next season began.

“We just happened to hit one day before the tryouts and it was not good,” Miller said, half-jokingly.

Eventually, it became self-evident that the Trojans had a strong team this season. 

While Kimbouris might’ve been confident prior to any tennis being played, Buckberry really saw how good her team could be when they turned in a strong performance at an early season tournament. The newfound depth from a trio of strong freshmen started to jell with the established players.

“We have seven seniors on the team this year and we had three really great freshmen join our lineup this year,” Buckberry said, “which has made a huge addition to the depth of our overall lineup. So when we saw that come together and then we played that Mason tournament, we saw that we really had a chance to, you know, rise to the top.”

For Miller, that moment of affirmation came a little later on in the season, when the Trojans secured a 6-2 match win head-to-head against Okemos. It had been more than a decade, and in Miller’s freshman year the Trojans came close to winning. 

“It was finally time to do it,” Miller said.

Getting that job done wasn’t as straightforward as the final score might make it seem. As Miller explains it, the match was tied 2-2, with three doubles matches being tightly contested. 

At one point, East Lansing went ahead on all three courts, with a chance to win all three, and the meet. Okemos responded, retaking the lead on each court and looking likely to take another inevitable victory. Instead, the momentum swung back the other way.

The Trojans retook their leads, winning all three doubles matches and topping Okemos for the first time in a long time. 

“I know I was really loud, kind of after the match,” Miller said of her celebrations. “And everyone said they heard me, but I thought it was a little quiet, but not really.”

To clear that hurdle signaled to her that this team was different.

And ultimately, Kimbouris, Buckberry and Miller were right. On top of beating their rivals, East Lansing won a league championship — which included beating their rivals again. At regionals, they finished in second place to (of course) Okemos. 

“It was a really big win,” Kimbouris said. “And then at conferences, we got first and they got second as well. They just had a really good day at regionals”

But as Miller and Kimbouris point out, that’s just one win for the rivals.

“We did beat them twice,” Kimbouris said.

Comments are closed.