Meyers Serves, Strides for Norrix Fall Teams

By Pam Shebest
Special for

August 21, 2017

KALAMAZOO — Finding a face in a crowd of 357 runners erupting down a hillside all at once could be a daunting task.

But spotting sophomore Joe Meyers is easy, said Greg Savicke.

“He’ll be one of the ones out front,” the Kalamazoo Loy Norrix coach predicted.

That was true at Friday’s Portage Central Early Bird Invitational, where Meyers finished 14th with a time of 17 minutes, 12 seconds.

That sounds like a great time for a first race of the season, but Meyers was not celebrating.

“I had a pretty bad race,” he said. “I was training in Colorado for like a month with my new coach, and I put in a lot of training.

“I should have been well in the 16s. It was just not a good race.”

He didn’t have much time to fret.

The two-sport athlete had his first tennis match of the season Monday.

He’s playing No. 2 singles for the Knights after putting together a 21-5 record at the same flight last year.

Juggling two fall sports is not a problem for the amiable Meyers, with tennis taking priority.

“We work around the tennis schedule,” said Savicke, in his 29th year as Norrix’s head cross country coach. “We get Joe when he’s available. Early in the season it’s not so much, but down the stretch, yes.

“That’s the championship part of our season for us, in October, so we get him for the most important meets coming up.”

Both sports are in Meyers’ DNA.

His mother, Jody, got him on the tennis court when he was 5 and just playing for fun. 

“Then I quit and mainly played hockey for years until seventh grade, then picked up tennis again,” he said.

He started running with his father, John, at age 9.

As a freshman, “I didn’t really want to pick one because I knew I could do pretty good in both,” Joe Meyers said. “It worked out last year.”

Both are individual sports, but in running, “you have to definitely have a lot more drive to go out and run by yourself because you can have a lot of excuses not to,” he said.

“In tennis, you go to group and you have to try as hard as you can. I don’t really get as tired in matches (since I’ve been) running.”

Meyers works out with sophomore Reed Crocker, Norrix’s No. 1 singles player.

Crocker qualified for the MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division 2 Finals last season, losing his top-flight title match, 7-6(6), 3-6, 7-6(8), to top-seeded Varun Shanker of Midland Dow.

The only way Meyers will make it to the Finals is if Loy Norrix as a team qualifies, since the No. 1 player is the only individual eligible if the team falls short at Regionals. The No. 1 singles champion and runner-up at Regionals advance to Finals play even if their teams do not qualify.

“We have a better chance (as a team) this year,” Crocker said. “The team’s looking better.

“We’ve been doing a lot of sprints, a lot. (Sunday) was an easy day. We only ran a mile” before practice.

Crocker said Meyers pushes him to be better.

“Joe is like the marathon runner, so it helps me with conditioning and it helps me on the court because I know he can help build the wins,” Crocker said.

“We hit together, and he pushes me get better. I’ve had the joy to hit with him the last year or so because he joined my coach (Bill Jenkins, who is also Norrix’s head coach).”

Jenkins, in his third season with the Knights, has coached tennis for 38 years.

Meyers possesses a “good work ethic, and genetics are very much in his favor as far as a force in track,” Jenkins said. “He’s built for it in tennis as well.

“He’s also extremely coachable so he has a very good perspective, very good mindset and disposition for tennis. He’s extremely intense, extremely passionate and competitive, but he’s also very level-headed, so he’s able to channel a lot of that energy into proper use.”

Jenkins said, in his experience, it is unusual to have an athlete be so successful in two sports in the same season.

“He’s got very set dreams but he works at them on a daily basis, knowing that the only way to achieve them is through his commitment,” the coach said.

“Regardless of whatever natural distractions may come up, he seems to stay on track very diligently and is years ahead of his time.”

While Meyers needs the team to qualify for the MHSAA Finals in tennis, he has a much better shot of earning a berth in cross country.

Last year, then-senior Gabe Runyon was the only Norrix runner to qualify for the Lower Peninsula Division 1 competition at Michigan International Speedway. 

Meyers just missed qualifying, finishing 21st at his Regional with a time of 17:04. The top 15 runners moved on.

Savicke lost Runyon and four of his other top seven runners to graduation this spring, noting that Meyers has moved up from second in the order to become the team’s top runner.

Meyers has improved on his 2016 Regional time and has an unofficial personal best of 16:30. He has hit 17:00 in a race, and his short-term goal is to get into the 16s during competition.

Said Savicke: “Joe’s father was a runner in high school for (Kalamazoo) Hackett in the 1980s, and he’s really active in bicycling and running events. He’s brought Joe along with him.

“I think that just paid dividends with his running abilities. I saw Joe in middle school, so I knew he would be a good fit for us.”

Norrix’s next cross country meet is Thursday with Meyers leading a varsity contingent of junior Will Carrier, senior Zach Skinner, sophomore Myles Baker, junior Rowan Mathieson, senior Garrett Bloom and sophomore Erick Ponce.

Once the fall season is over, Meyers does not plan to leave sports behind.

He bicycles and was the Michigan Bicycle Racing Association road race junior state and point series champ a year ago and “might pick up hockey or swimming this year,” he said.

In the spring, he is part of the varsity track & field team, competing in the 1,600, 3,200 and 3,200 relay.

Pam Shebest served as a sportswriter at the Kalamazoo Gazette from 1985-2009 after 11 years part-time with the Gazette while teaching French and English at White Pigeon High School. She can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Calhoun, Kalamazoo and Van Buren counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Kalamazoo Loy Norrix sophomore Joe Meyers returns a volley during a tennis practice Sunday. (Middle) Clockwise from top left: Meyers, tennis teammate Reed Crocker, Knights’ boys tennis coach Bill Jenkins, Knights’ boys cross country coach Greg Savicke. (Below) Meyers pushes ahead of a pack during Friday’s Early Bird race at Portage Central. (Photos by Pam Shebest.)

West Iron Makes Every Point Count Winning Finals Title by Slimmest of Margins

By Jerry DeRoche
Special for

May 30, 2024

KINGSFORD – After a two-year absence, the West Iron County Wykons returned to the top of Division 2 boys tennis in the Upper Peninsula on Wednesday with their razor-thin victory over host Iron Mountain and 2023 champion Ishpeming at Kingsford High School.

With two flight championships and four runner-up finishes, West Iron County recorded 14 points compared to 13 for Iron Mountain and 12 for Ishpeming.

Junior No. 2 singles player Zander Birmingham and the No. 3 doubles duo of senior Ethan Isaacson and junior Keenan Dobson-Donati led the Wykons to their first team championship since 2021.

Second-year coach Jim Anderson was effusive in his praise for his squad.

“I’m thrilled beyond words,” Anderson said. “They put in a lot of work this season and had a ton of commitment, and that showed on the court today. They played with a ton of heart and a lot of grit, and they dug deep for the win.”

Birmingham rolled to his second U.P. championship after having won the title at No. 4 singles in 2023, losing just two games in his two matches on Wednesday, both to Munising’s Levi Westcomb in the final.

“To move up from (No. 4) singles to (No.2) singles and still have the same success means a lot to me,” Birmingham said. “I’m very, very excited and just proud of myself in general.”

At No. 3 doubles, Issacson and Dobson-Donati earned a bye into the second round, then won by forfeit in the semifinals before fighting off Iron Mountain’s Ben Truong and Carter Kassin 6-4, 7-5 in the final.

“Two of the hardest-working kids on the court,” Anderson said of his No. 3 doubles pairing. “Ethan’s a senior and one of the leaders on the team this year, and Keenan’s been moving up the ranks. They had a goal in mind today, and they achieved it.”

In the top flights, Munising’s Carson Kienitz recorded his third U.P. title – his first in singles – by defeating West Iron County’s Caleb Strom 6-4, 6-1 at No. 1, while Iron Mountain’s brother tandem of Reece and Oskar Kangas knocked off Hunter Smith and Caden Luoma 7-5, 6-2 at No. 1 doubles.

Iron Mountain senior Reece Kangas lines up a forehand shot during the No. 1 doubles championship decider.Kienitz, a two-time U.P champion at No. 1 doubles, scuffled a bit early in his match against Strom but rolled to the victory once he got going.

“Pretty much every match that I’ve played I start out really slow and I lose the first couple of games,” the 6-foot-4 junior said. “But I start to learn my opponent and I get in my groove, and I’m able to climb back up and finish it.”

Kienitz did so Wednesday against Strom, who came into the tournament as the No. 1 seed and had defeated Kienitz in their previous two matches.

“I knew he hits it really hard, and he’s a good player,” Kienitz said of Strom. “But instead of playing his game and hitting the ball back hard and making mistakes, I was just playing my game and hitting to his backhand and pushing the net.”

In the top doubles flight, the Kangas brothers also started slowly in the final but won 13 of the final 18 games to record their first U.P. title in their only attempt.

Reece said he had to convince his 6-foot-6 brother Oskar, an all-U.P. Dream Team selection in basketball, to take up tennis this season.

“I definitely had to talk him into it,” said Reece, who played singles his previous seasons. “He was thinking of doing some other sports and I told him, ‘If you and me play doubles this year, it will be a year to remember, especially for me in my senior year.”

To close out their “year to remember,” the Kangas brothers needed to gain some revenge on Smith and Luoma, who had won the previous matchup in the Mid-Peninsula Conference championship.

“We knew it would be tough, they are a quick team and they retrieve a lot, so it’s hard to score on them,” Oskar said of the Ishpeming pair. “But we had a sense of urgency today. It was our last (match) no matter what, so we wanted to go out with a big win.”

The Mountaineers posted two other flight championships. Freshman Braden Kassin outlasted West Iron County’s Dominick Brunswick 7-6, 7-6 at No. 3 singles, and freshman Malakai Broersma fought back to upend West Iron’s James White 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 at No. 4 singles.

Ishpeming won the other two flights. Hayden Hares and Tramon Gauthier knocked off Iron Mountain’s Geno Schinderle and Dylan Lindgren 6-4, 6-4 at No. 2 doubles, while Adam Maki and Ethan Corp topped West Iron’s Jackson Secord and Matthew Swenski 6-3, 6-3 at No. 4 doubles.

PHOTOS (Top) Munising's Carson Kienitz returns a serve during the No. 1 singles championship match at the MHSAA U.P. Division 2 Final on Wednesday in Kingsford. (Middle) Iron Mountain senior Reece Kangas lines up a forehand shot during the No. 1 doubles championship decider. (Photos by Sean Chase.)