Clarkston Ace Ready for Final Title Drive

September 26, 2019

By Keith Dunlap
Special for Second Half

CLARKSTON – While striving for his first MHSAA Finals title in one sport, Luke Baylis is looking to be a part of a repeat championship in another.

A senior at Clarkston High School, Baylis is head of the powder puff committee for his class, a job that entails collecting money, setting the rules and overseeing the team as it goes for a second consecutive win.

“As juniors they beat the seniors last year,” said Baylis, who served in the same role for the junior squad a year ago. “They’re a pretty solid team. Hopefully they’ll win again.”

As the powder puff team pursues school bragging rights, Baylis is in the midst of a statewide quest.

An all-state tennis player his first three years of high school, Baylis is looking to cap off his career with a Lower Peninsula Division 1 individual title at No. 1 singles after contending for the flight championship the last two years.

Baylis has lost in the No. 1 semifinals both of the last two years, falling to Troy’s Steven Forman two years ago, 6-0, 6-0; and Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice’s Jarreau Campbell in three sets last year.

As a freshman, Baylis lost in the championship match at No. 2 singles to Andrew Zhang of Bloomfield Hills, the title winner at No. 1 singles in 2018.

With Campbell and Zhang graduated, this could be the time for Baylis.

“I definitely think there is a pretty big opportunity,” said Baylis, who carries a 4.1 grade-point average. “I’m definitely feeling a little more pressure, but the pressure is good at the same time. It’s not bad pressure.”

Baylis said his parents have told him that he has had a “racquet in his hands since he was a baby,” but he started playing competitively when he was 6 years old.

Baylis also dabbled in basketball, an obsession in the Clarkston community. But despite that, he didn’t have any dreams of suiting up for the decorated Wolves hoops program.

“I kind of knew I always liked tennis more,” Baylis said. “I knew I really wasn’t going to be playing varsity basketball, so I moved on and started playing tennis more competitively.”

Baylis certainly does play competitively during the summer, saying he’s usually gone every weekend competing at junior tournaments.

Clarkston head coach Chas Claus said Baylis’ biggest strength is his poise.

Claus pointed out there are no situations in matches where Baylis gets frustrated, starts talking to himself or shouts in anger.

“He’s very tough to fluster,” Claus said. “I’ve rarely seen him out of sorts in a match where he didn’t pull through and figure it out.”

Baylis, who currently has a 20-1 record, will play in college at Michigan State, choosing the Spartans over Notre Dame.

“It had the best feeling,” Baylis said of a visit to MSU. “When I stepped on campus, I knew it was right. Nothing felt quite as right as the team at Michigan State.”

Before making the move to East Lansing, he wants to apply the lessons he’s learned the last three years when he gets a final crack at a Finals title next month.

“I got tight in certain situations,” Baylis said. “I think it definitely made me stronger and a little more motivated going into this year after that semifinal loss.”

By the time the Finals wrap up Oct. 19 in Midland, Baylis hopes he’ll have two titles in the bag – a tennis championship to go with a second powder puff crown for his senior class.

PHOTOS: (Top) Clarkston’s Luke Baylis returns a volley during first-day play at the 2017 LP Division 1 Finals. (Middle) Baylis has made the No. 1 singles semifinals the last two seasons. (Top photo by; middle courtesy of Luke Baylis.)

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.)