TRAVERSE CITY — Diamonds require 725,000 pounds per square inch of pressure and billions of years to form.
They require the long-term stress from scorching temperatures and the weight of the Earth to come out the other side as glistening gems.
The Traverse City West Titans tennis team feels it has bided its time and are welcoming the pressure in hopes that this season produces a few shiny things of its own.
Following the best finish in the 22-year history of the school, the Titans are looking to do more than just defend their Division 1 regional crown.
“We want to be the best school in Michigan,” senior Jack Fischer said. “That is one of our top goals by the end of this. Also, beating our rivals Central because we haven’t done that yet. And this year, we have a very good shot at winning the Big North Conference for the first time.”
The Titans have very good reason to be confident.
They return nearly the entire team that carried them to a regional title a year ago, losing only Jake Cannon, who was one half of the No.1 doubles team that captured a regional title. This group includes nine seniors and four doubles flights that were instrumental in the Titans success a year ago.
“We’ve got high expectations and we are planning on a big year,” second-year head coach Ed Bernard said. “I’m looking for even better things at state this year. Last season we tied for 13th in the state which was very good, but this year we’re going to definitely be top-10.
“I have not hidden my expectations. Quite honestly, they are all geeked and ready to perform. They have worked hard all winter to be able to get to this spot.”
Fischer said that the team has bonded over their success and it has prompted more guys to play tennis year-round, only helping their chances in the fall. He said the Titans have constantly talked about their title defense and it has motivated them to push harder.
Fischer, who started out playing doubles as a freshman and was at No. 2 singles in 2018, will be assuming the No.1 singles role this season and thinks that the competition has been upped.
Fischer and 2018 Record-Eagle Dream Team member Alex Gerling battled for the No.1 singles spot in tryouts, with Fischer narrowly securing the role and signaling the strength of the Titans lineup from top to bottom.
Gerling will assume the No.2 singles flight while seniors Luke Krcmarik and Quinn Wolfe will round out the other two singles flights. Jack Beltnick, Jackson Tisdale and Joe Klein will be back to lead doubles flights as well.
The other half of the No.1 doubles flight from last year, Eduardo Gonzalez, will welcome Will Crick to his duo. Gonzalez is only in his second year playing tennis as a senior but thinks that the pressure that has come from their success has been beneficial.
“I think we have a lot of pressure because we are the team to beat this year in Traverse City,” he said. “But I think it’s good for us to have that pressure because it motivates us to play harder every single time to meet those expectations.”
Many around the state may not expect TC West to break into the top-10 in Division 1 but its the expectations from within that are fueling the Titans.
“They’ve got the eye of the tiger,” Bernard said. “Every one of these guys wants it. When you have a whole group behind that we are set up to grab the wins as they come.”
Bernard has set expectations high for his team and laid out a plan to condition his athletes to reach those goals.
The Titans will be tackling their hardest early season schedule to date, heading to Ann Arbor Pioneer, Forest Hills Northern, Holt and taking on TC Central as conference play beings.
TC West will have ten overnight trips to play in places near Grand Rapids, Lansing, Detroit and Kalamazoo to get them battle tested for the postseason. Bernard said his team may get beat up a bit in the early goings but he thinks that is necessary to teach his team what it takes to win it all.
The second-year coach said the overnight trips teach his team about the little things like how sleep, diet and hydration effect your body.
“You have to play tough matches and learn how to lose to learn how to win,” Bernard said. “It’s about dedication to making sure that they are doing all the little things. They know what I want and I am going to push that in the early season. If they want to do it they will know what is necessary and they will understand the method.”
Bernard often uses his experience as a former collegiate tennis player to teach his team new tips and tricks to get the most out of their time in high school and the boys have taken full advantage.
Fischer spoke of new moves and mental strategies that Bernard has brought to the program in only one short year.
Bernard tells his team that his success was founded in the mental part of the game and learning how to find your opponents weaknesses, exploit them and minimize any that they may have.
Bernard is looking to lean on his veterans to bring the Titans into the top-10 Division 1 programs by the end of the season. The senior captains Wolfe and Klein along with Fischer and Gerling have spoke at length about what they want to happen.
“This is our last year and we want to go above and beyond and have an even better finish than last year,” Fischer said. “I think we’re capable of doing really well at states, probably top five.”
No one at Traverse City West is hiding from the pressure. They are embracing it and using it to make the temperature reach 2000 degrees.
“There are a lot of good tennis high schools in the state but we want to make sure everyone knows TC West is one of them,”Bernard said confidently.
“We are going to win the Big North Conference and we are going to win the regional. You can print that. We are focused on both, it’s not just about the regional and we have the team to do it.”