B y Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
If Michael Sienko could re-play the last three years of his school tennis career, he’d hope for them to play out the same way.
That would mean experiencing again the disappointment of falling in two straight MHSAA championship matches. But those moments of frustration would be more than worth reliving this season, which ended two weeks ago with the Division 4 championship at No. 1 singles.
“Winning my last match is not something a lot of guys can say, and I think it’s cool that I lost twice in the state finals and ended up winning it. It’s a good story,” Sienko said. “It taught me lessons about not giving up and just working hard to accomplish my goals, and that’s what I did.”
In fact, Sienko didn’t lose a high school match in 2012. The Williamston senior gets a Second Half High 5 after finishing 28-0 this fall to run his career record to 102-8. The championship actually was Sienko’s second – he also won the Division 4 title at No. 2 singles as a freshman.
But much has changed since Sienko joined the Hornets varsity in 2009, playing the second position behind his older brother Peter, who finished MHSAA runner-up that season.
Michael was a slight 5-foot-3 then, before hitting a growth spurt at the end of his freshman year that helped him get to 5-10.
But he still had growing to do to set up this perfect season.
Sienko’s league, the Capital Area Activities Conference White, has produced the last three Division 4 champions at No. 1 singles. In 2010, Sienko lost to then-junior Paul Heeder of Lansing Catholic, 6-4, 6-2, after advancing to the final by beating the No. 1 seed. But Sienko entered last season’s Finals as the top seed and beat Heeder in a semifinal match – before then falling to second-seeded Chance Conley of Portland, 6-4, 6-2 again.
Heeder graduated in the spring, but Conley also is a senior this fall. That meant the two of them could meet at least four times – including a rematch in the Final at Kalamazoo College.
Fueled by the 2011 loss, Sienko got to work. He played more during the offseason and did more conditioning. He also hit the weight room – “It’s not like I was benching 250 or something, like the football guys, one, two, three and drop the weight,” he said – and focused on high-rep workouts that added explosiveness and velocity to his shots.
He also did some mental training, with the help of his older brother. Peter Sienko plays for Army, and texted Michael frequently before matches, mostly to help build his brother’s confidence. “Tennis, a lot of it is mental,” Michael said. “It’s confidence. If you’re not getting down on yourself, chances are you’re going to win. If you’re down on yourself, there’s really no help for you.”
Sienko did indeed see Conley in their final high school match. And this time, Sienko came out on top 6-1, 6-0.
“Michael had a goal all season to win states, and he worked very hard to achieve it,” Williamston coach Jenny Nalepa said. “He has a great attitude on and off the court and set an example for all the other players on the team.”
Williamston ended up 11th as a team at the Division 4 Final, and Sienko helping his teammates was a big part of his final season. He’ll get the chance to play at the collegiate level – his favorites are Army and Air Force – but this fall was about team, and when the Hornets lost, he was disappointed too although he’d won his point. He enjoys leading and fell into that position easily as a senior.
That’s how he’d like to be remembered, as much for his perfect season and his two championships.
“I gave 100 percent every time I played, and I definitely tried to play for Williamston and not myself,” Sienko said. “Because that’s the bigger picture.”
PHOTO: Williamston's Michael Sienko returns a volleyball during the MHSAA Division 4 Final at Kalamazoo College. (Click to see more from HighSchoolSportsScene.com).