The West Ottawa girls team delivered a stunning performance at the OK Red Conference tournament on Saturday, marking the Panthers’ fifth consecutive conference title.
Dominating almost every court they walked on, West Ottawa secured the conference title with a total of 70 points, Followed by Hudsonville (58), Rockford (51), Jenison (38), Grandville (37), Grand Haven (36), East Kentwood (18) and Caledonia (16).
The Panthers won eight of the nine flights, the first time the team has reached eight flight titles in a single conference tournament.
West Ottawa put on a performance that spectators won’t soon forget. No. 2. singles freshman rising star Danielle Lebster faced off against Hudsonville’s Kelsey Wolma in the finals. Lebster overcame Wolma in a two-set match, 7-5, 6-4.
Not letting the pressure consume her, Lebster remembered what her coaches taught her and stayed calm, relaxed and focused.
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“We learned tactics this week, specifically in between points on how to calm down and reevaluate the situation,” she said.
Taking time between her games to recollect her thoughts helped Lebster gain confidence and a sense of belonging in this chaotic atmosphere.
“Especially before the season, I was like, I can’t let them down,” Lebster said. “Otherwise, they would be like, ‘Why would we put the freshman at the No. 2 singles spot?’ It’s a good feeling that I didn’t let them down, especially in the conference finals. ”
Lebster was not the only Panther who faced adversity and came out victorious. No. 1. singles Megan Blake finished first 6-2, 6-2, No. 3. singles Chloe Duckworth finished first 7-5, 6-4, No. 4. singles Grace Gaul also finished first 6-1, 6- 2 in the finals.
The Panther doubles teams also finished remarkably well as No. 1. doubles Kaitlyn Meyer and Maddie Moored finished second, No. 2. doubles Kelly Linart and Kamryn Dumas finished first 6-0, 6-2, No. 3. doubles Halle Pratt and Eleanor Ervine finished first 6-4, 6-1, No. 4. doubles Rachel Kennedy and Jessica Zhang finished first 6-0, 6-4 and No. 5. doubles Eden Hamilton and Kayla Jones finished first 6-2, 2- 6, 6-0.
The Panthers have had tremendous success throughout the year, but that success started long before the season even began. Intense off-season training, including weights, may have been the deciding factor in the tournament results.
“Most of what you win during the season, you actually win it in the offseason, and then you reap the rewards during the season,” said coach Pete Schwallier. “We earned a conference title today, but really they’ve been earning it for the last few years.”
Every game, set and match was played with heartfelt emotion that rippled through everyone spectating, allowing the Panthers to deliver their most impressive season yet.
“The amount of poise that these specific girls play with,” Schwallier said. “You can tell that it is important to each one of these girls to do well for themselves, their teammates, their families, for everyone. You can tell it is important for them to do well because it represents something, and that’s really special to see. ”
It was a special moment for the Panthers as they left the courts with tears of joy and not a single word to describe what they had just accomplished.
“It’s hard to describe it in words, but you know it when you see it,” Schwallier said. “I don’t have the right words to describe it, but we all saw it, and we all knew what was there today.”