Chargers 'Family' Runs Streak to 5

October 19, 2013

By Greg Chrapek
Special to Second Half

Many teams talk about their family atmosphere. The Midland Dow boys tennis team lives it.

Dow’s family approach was on display at the MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division 2 Finals on Friday and Saturday at Hope College in Holland as the Chargers aimed for a fifth consecutive team title. After the final ball was served Saturday afternoon, Dow players had captured six of eight flights en route to a dominating performance.

Dow claimed the title in impressive fashion as along with six champions it had players in seven of eight flight finals. Dow totaled 37 points, 13 more than second-place Detroit U-D Jesuit; while third-place Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern scored 23 points.

“The five straight titles is not about anything the coach does,” Midland Dow coach Terry Schwartzkopf said. “We do it as a community. The players, the coaches, the parents, we are all invested in each other.

“These guys are back in my room after graduation. They are friends outside of school. They even have their own fantasy football league. The parents all know each other. That is the key to our success.”

The Chargers also have some outstanding individuals. Among the best this season was a pair of seniors who each won their fourth individual title along with being part of four title teams. Julian Guerra capped his career by winning at No. 2 singles while Jason Chang teamed up with Vikram Shanker to win at No. 1 doubles.

Chang wrapped up his career by setting a career record for wins by a doubles player with 138. His partner, Shanker, finished second on the career doubles victory list with 132.

Chang and Shanker teamed up to defeat Timmy Hoffman and Marty Nagle from U-D Jesuit in two sets.

While Chang was pleased with the wins record, capturing a fourth straight team title was the main thought on his mind.

“My primary goal was for our team to win states,” Chang said. “This (win record) was just something that came along with it. The state title feels great. It is something we have been working for.”

Shanker, Chang’s partner, was in total agreement.

“It’s just amazing,” Shanker said. “We are great friends and to go out with another state championship is great. As seniors you want to go out on top.”

Shanker also pointed to the team’s family atmosphere as being key to the fifth straight title.

“We are just one big family,” Shanker said. “We train together the year round. Everyone turned it on this weekend. Our No. 3 doubles team didn’t have a perfect season but they won an amazing match.”

Dow’s No. 3 doubles team was made up of Seamus Bartlett and Daniel Mango and came into the tournament seeded second. Bartlett and Mango progressed to the final where they defeated Forest Hills Northern’s Ryan Roach and Daiki Adachi in three sets.

“It was just incredible,” Mango said. “We won the first set then we lost the second set. We got down in the third set but then we pulled through at the end. Our coach just gave us words of encouragement. We knew what we had to do. We gave it our all and we did it.”

“It just feels amazing,” Bartlett said. “We just kept our focus and played with great intensity.”

At No. 2 doubles Dow’s team of Patrick Eschbach and Colin Angell rolled to victory with a 6-0, 6-1 win against Parneet Gogireddy and Alex Winks of Forest Hills Northern.

“We just have tremendous chemistry,” Angell said. “We’ve only been a team for one year but we work well together.”

For Eschbach is was the second time he won a doubles title.

“Last year I did it at No. 3 doubles,” Eschbach said. “It was amazing to repeat.”

The only doubles title not won by Dow came at No. 4. That was where a pair of neighboring rivals from Forest Hills in suburban Grand Rapids hooked up with the title on the line.

The Forest Hills Central team of Mitch Timyan and Humzah Azeem defeated the Forest Hills Northern team of Nick Parente and Matt Zhao 6-4, 6-3.

“It feels real great,” Azeem said. “I’m just ecstatic. I’m not sure how to feel right now.”

The two teams were meeting for a fourth time this year with the Central duo having won two of the previous three matches.

“We lost at home to them about a month ago,” Azeem said. “Our intensity level just escalated from there.”

It was a first title for Timyan but he was not the first member of his family to win his final match.

“It feels amazing,” Timyan said. “It’s crazy because I saw my brother Austin win one four years ago. We just played our best and were at the top of our game.”        

In singles action few players have been at the top of their games more than Kalamazoo Loy Norrix senior Davis Crocker, who captured his third straight title at No. 1 singles. Crocker defeated Dow sophomore William Kirkman 6-3, 6-1.

“This feels just as good as the first one,” Crocker said. “My goal the whole year was to win the third one. It’s just surreal. When I started I never expected to win one. To win a third one is just out of this world.”

For Guerra of Dow, he ended his career with four MHSAA titles to his credit. Guerra won the No. 2 singles title in two sets against Thomas Sheeren of U-D Jesuit. Guerra won titles at No. 4 singles as a freshman and sophomore and last year he won at No. 3 singles.

“It’s just great,” Guerra said. “I also want to thank my teammates. I couldn’t have achieved it without them.

“All the hard work paid off. It was a lot harder this year because I moved up to No. 2 singles and had to play a lot stronger players this year.”

At No. 4 singles, Dow sophomore Michael Szabo won his second straight title. Szabo defeated Freddy Heegan of U-D Jesuit in two sets.

“It’s a great feeling,” Szabo said. “Just being able to help our team win is a great feeling. It means a lot to win five titles in a row, and it means we have to keep working hard to make it six.”

Taking part in his first Finals was Dow freshman Varun Shanker at No. 3 singles. Shanker defeated Will Christian of Forest Hills Northern in two sets to claim his crown.

“I can’t say enough about the Dow program,” Shanker said. “It was my dream to play tennis for Dow and help them win a state title. To win five in a row is awesome. To play for a program like Dow with such high expectations is a great experience.”

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PHOTOS: (Top) Dow No. 1 doubles pair Jason Chang (left) and Vikram Shanker exchange a congratulatory shake during Saturday's Final. (Middle) Dow's Julian Guerra prepares to return a volley on his way to winning the No. 2 singles title. (Click to see more from High School Sports Scene.)

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.)