When Jim Niebling, Portland’s iconic tennis coach, decided to retire at the end of last year after a 21-year career as the Raider’s Coach, Crystal Lowe who had been Niebling’s Girl’s Junior Varsity Coach for 20 years, was the natural replacement.
Lowe, in her first year as the Girl’s Varsity Tennis Coach, has nothing but praise for Niebling, her long- time coaching mentor, “He is the one that got me into coaching tennis”, she shared with the Beacon in an interview earlier this week. “I was a second-year teacher at Portland and when Jim learned that I had played tennis at Holly High School, which has a great tennis program, he decided that I should coach with him”, she said with a bit of laughter as she recalled the experience. “Now here we are 20 years later.” At first Lowe was hesitant to agree to take over the program. “Jim built such a great tennis tradition here in Portland, how do you replace a coaching legend?”, Lowe asked. But resistance was futile, and Lowe found herself agreeing to “try to carry on what Jim had spent 21 years creating”. “Besides”, Lowe exclaimed, “we have some great tennis families and fans here in Portland. They are actually the ones that keep it going”, acknowledging that their support of the program made her decision to take over as coach less daunting.
“It also helps”, Lowe reflected, “that Jim left such a great group of tennis players returning on this year’s roster”. Eleven “knowledgeable and experienced players” are returning from last year’s squad that finished second in the Regional Tournament behind 1st place Durand and ahead of 3rd place Lansing Catholic. There is little doubt that the Raider Girl’s Tennis team, are the favorites to win the CAAC White Division title and to contend for the Regional Championship that will be held in Portland in mid-May.
Lowe, who holds a bachelor’s degree from Western Michigan and a master’s degree from Michigan State, teaches French and Government at Portland High School. So, she has almost daily interaction with her players during school, several whom she coached during their time on the Junior Varsity. “These are all-around great kids”, Lowe said enthusiastically, “and I know what they are capable of. I am very excited and optimistic about what this team will do this year. Their experience will take them far this season.”
A problem that every coach would like to have is a team so strong that it is difficult to pick out the stars. This year’s Raider Girls Tennis team is just such a team and is loaded with talent and winning experience. Seniors Rachel VanHouten and Riley Thelen will play #1 Doubles and are the defending Regional Doubles Champions. Junior Ainsley Ludema, who showed her tennis savvy when she won a CAAC and Regional Championship as a freshman, will play in the #1 Singles position. Sophomore Kayla Weller, who was Regional champion at #3 Singles last year, will play #2 Singles for the Raiders this year. Freshman Alyssa Jack will play #3 Singles and Junior Taylor Jenks will play #4 Singles this year. The # 2 Doubles team will be Senior Samantha Weber and Sophomore Maura Lufkin. The #3 Doubles team will be Juniors Novelle Matteson and Julia Savage. Finally, Senior Emily Bigelow and Junior Taylor Jenks will play in the # 4 Doubles position for the Raiders. Sophomores Xanthe Cross, Mya Collins, and Grace Sines, as well as Senior Danielle Curtiss, round out the Varsity team this year.
The Raiders have already played two matches this year. The first match was a four-way match with North Muskegon, Whitehall, and Almont last Saturday in Portland. The Raider Girls placed second in that event. On Tuesday the Raiders visited Williamston and won handily 7-1. Their next match will be on Tuesday, April 9th when they visit Lowell. The full 2019 schedule follows below.
2019 PHS Varsity Tennis Schedule
Saturday Mar. 23 Portland Indoor @ MSU Portland High School 1:00PM
Tuesday Mar. 26 @ Williamston High School 4:00PM
Tuesday Apr. 09 @ Lowell High School 4:00PM
Tuesday Apr. 16 * @ Lansing Catholic High School 4:00PM
Thursday Apr. 18 @ Lakewood HS Lakewood HS 4:00PM
Saturday Apr. 20 @ Allegan Public Schools (Allegan Tiger Invitational) 9:00AM
Tuesday Apr. 23 * @ Ionia High School Ionia High School 4:00PM
Thursday Apr. 25 * Eaton Rapids High School 4:00PM
Monday Apr. 29 @ Caledonia High School 4:00PM
Thursday May. 02 * Charlotte HS Portland High School 4:00PM
Saturday May. 04 Spring Sports Carnival Portland High School 9:00AM
Tuesday May. 07 @ Lumen Christi Catholic HS 4:00PM
Thursday May. 09 * CAAC White Division Tournament at Portland High School 9:00AM
Saturday May. 11 Portland Quad Portland High School 9:00AM
Tuesday May. 14 @ Holt High School Holt High 2:30PM 4:00PM
Thursday May. 16 (Regionals) at Portland High School 9:00AM
* = league event
Photo is 2019 Portland Raiders Girls Varsity Tennis Team provided by Coach Crystal Lowe. Complements Nancy Lufkin.