West Ottawa's Grace Gaul uses vision, 'packs a punch' to reach state tennis finals

·3 min read
West Ottawa's Grace Gaul won the Division 1 regional championship at No. 4 singles.
West Ottawa's Grace Gaul won the Division 1 regional championship at No. 4 singles.

Grace Gaul has her senses heightened on the tennis court.

The West Ottawa senior uses her wide-open eyes to give her awareness on the court at all times. She knows where her opponent is and where the next shot needs to go.

Gaul also has the strength and energy to continue that constant hunt of her opponent’s weakness for an entire match.

That was on full display during the Division 1 regional tournament where Gaul claimed the No. 4 singles title.

“It means everything. Playing singles is tough but I really appreciate winning,” Gaul said.

That appreciation has led to a work ethic that puts her in position to win — a lot.

It starts with that vision.

“My biggest strength is keeping the ball in play and grinding it out until I win the point,” Gaul said. “Vision is definitely super important. You always have to keep an eye on the ball and the line. It is important to always be watching everything. That is probably the most important thing in singles.”

West Ottawa coach Pete Schwallier has seen Gaul transform her game into a powerful assault on opponents, something not always seen at No. 4 singles.

“You can see how she releases her groundstrokes and gets that extra pop on it. She puts more shape on the ball. You can see that on all of her shots,” Schwallier said. “Last year, she was an amazing wall who has unending energy, but now she packs a punch and generates pace.”

West Ottawa's Grace Gaul returns a shot during the Division 1 regional tournament.
West Ottawa's Grace Gaul returns a shot during the Division 1 regional tournament.

That energy keeps up the pace.

“I have focused on coming out strong and playing my game that I have worked so hard at. It has paid off and it has been a great opportunity,” she said.

Gaul won the regional championship with a 7-5, 6-0 win over Hudsonville’s Ellie Oskin in the finals.

More: Chloe Duckworth earns regional redemption as West Ottawa claims team title

Subscribe: Get unlimited access to our local coverage

“It was a very tough match. She played really strong in the first set but I kept my energy up and kept a good mindset to pull through. Once I got that through that first set, it was easy to keep that mindset and play like I can play,” she said.

Being the only senior singles player has given Gaul a different perspective on team and leadership, something she wants to pass down to the younger players.

“I definitely try to take charge. I have to focus on being a good role model. My teammates are great supporters and just great friends in general,” she said.

That camaraderie has led to team chemistry as the Panthers continue their streak of making the Division 1 state tournament.

But Gaul and the Panthers aren’t content with just making the tournament.

“I think we are capable of so much at state. We have played those East-side teams before and know how to beat them. Making it to the second day at state is all of our goals. That will allow us to play the best at state. I have to focus on my strokes and play how I normally play. I am coming in as an underdog because those East-side teams are hard to beat,” Gaul said. “These past few years have meant everything. It is hard as a senior but this is a great way to end.”

— Contact Sports Editor Dan D'Addona at Dan.D'Addona@hollandsentinel.com. Follow him on Twitter @DanDAddona and Facebook @Holland Sentinel Sports.

This article originally appeared on The Holland Sentinel: West Ottawa's Grace Gaul uses vision, 'packs a punch' to reach state tennis finals