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PHN’s Lily VanHowe Named Times Herald Girls Tennis Player of the Year

PHN’s Lily VanHowe Named Times Herald Girls Tennis Player of the Year

PORT HURON — When it comes to tennis, Lily VanHowe can talk about anything.

Most of the time, the conversation centers on the Port Huron Northern High School girls’ team, where she played No. 1 singles for the past two years. The conversation turns to her teammates and coaches.

VanHowe goes beyond the Huskies and also talks about the children she coaches at the Port Huron Tennis House.

There’s one subject she doesn’t like to talk about: herself. But lately, VanHowe has no choice.

Last month, she was selected as a Division 1 Ms. Tennis nominee by the Michigan High School Tennis Coaches Association (MHSTeCA).

Due to a tie in the voting process, VanHowe shared the nomination with Troy’s Nika Tananko. Forest Hills Central’s Lily Ohlman, the Division 2 nominee, was ultimately named Ms. Tennis.

“I feel really honored to be considered for this,” VanHowe said. “Tennis has really shaped me as a person. So to get this, it’s really an honor. Just because it represents how much I’ve worked on and off the court — to shape myself and my game.”

“I’m not surprised at all that she’s getting (this recognition),” Northern coach Tiffany Odlum said. “When you talk about a kid — on the court and off the court — that’s the complete package and such a great ambassador for the game, it’s Lily VanHowe.”

And that’s one of the reasons she was named Times Herald Girls Tennis Player of the Year.

“Lily was voted senior captain this year,” Odlum said. “She really took ownership of her role and ran with it. If Lily wasn’t on the court playing her game, she would go to her teammates’ court and cheer them on — even if she didn’t win (her own game). That’s really unique in an individual sport, (especially) when she’s the best player on the team. She just wants the team to win.”

The Huskies had a big winning streak this season, culminating in their fourth straight trip to the MHSAA Division 1 state finals.

Northern finished sixth out of 27 teams competing. Three singles players also advanced to their respective semifinals — Addison Lyons (No. 2 singles), Amara Makim (No. 3 singles) and Ashlyn Kinney (No. 4 singles).

“Lily is a great teammate,” Lyons said. “She’s always been so supportive, especially to me as a co-captain, she’s just so awesome. She really loves seeing everyone succeed.

“In addition to all the success she’s had, she’s always been very determined to be a team player. Even if she didn’t win sometimes (on a particular day), she always made sure her teammates felt supported and loved and that there was someone there to support them.”

VanHowe’s passion extends to all aspects of the game, especially her work ethic.

“I’ve known Lily since I was three or four,” Makim said. “I think a lot of people don’t realize how much time she puts into it (practicing). She probably put in double what the rest of us did, which is a lot.

“And not only that, she gives so much back. She coaches all the time. The little kids at the Tennis House love her. Every time they see her, they run up to her and give her a hug. She’s a really good role model for that younger generation as well.”

Of the countless memories VanHowe and her teammates create, it’s the simple ones that stand out.

“Our freshman year, she got to drive and I didn’t,” said Harris, who is VanHowe’s best friend. “Some of our races had horrible weather. So I remember we would get in her car and hang out for a while because we would have long delays. That was always fun because we don’t get to see each other that much at races because she’s the furthest away from mine.”

“It was my sophomore or junior year,” Makim said. “We were playing Eisenhower and she had already finished her game. The girl I was playing against took a medical timeout. It was probably 95 degrees and everyone was in their cars watching. But (VanHowe) was sitting out there watching me in the heat.”

Makim added: “During the timeout, (VanHowe) came out on the court and talked to me about my game. She brought me an umbrella and a cool towel. That’s one of the things I love about her, how great she is as a teammate to everybody.”

VanHowe’s fondest memory came during the second singles tournament of the 2022 Division 1 state finals.

“My (quarterfinal) match didn’t start until 7:00 that night,” VanHowe said. “I was playing Bloomfield Hills and they were very competitive, this girl and I both wanted to make it to day two.”

VanHowe was seeded sixth, while Bloomfield Hills’ Raegan Tomina finished third.

“Our match was three sets of super long rallies,” VanHowe said. “But the whole time, the Bloomfield Hills team was cheering me on using rubber chickens … it was probably a three-hour match.”

Despite the hostile environment, VanHowe won (6-2, 4-6, 6-3).

“When I finished, the whole (Northern) team came out on the field,” VanHowe said. “Everyone was cheering and hugging me. I felt so loved. It was great to see our team come together.”

“It was such an emotional time,” Lyons said. “We were so young, because it was only our second year on the team. But when I saw her do that and she was so excited — she just said she wanted to do that for the team.”

For VanHowe, it’s always been about the team, the community and the sport.

“I’m most proud of the example I set for the younger kids with sportsmanship and the integrity of playing,” VanHowe said. “I was in the Tennis House every day working on my game. I feel like it showed the younger kids, or anyone, that you can always keep playing and improve your game.

“No matter what happens, you can always persevere, no matter what.”

Contact Brenden Welper at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @BrendenWelper.