Doubles Deliver Ishpeming's 1st Boys Tennis Finals Title Since 1994

By Alexandria Bournonville
Special for

May 31, 2023

ISHPEMING — Through a rousing fight on neutral tennis courts at Westwood High School, Ishpeming won the MHSAA Upper Peninsula Division 2 Finals on Tuesday.

It capped off quite a rollercoaster of a season for these Hematites, who hadn’t won a U.P. title in the sport since 1994 when they competed in the Class C-D division. They hadn’t even been a U.P. runner-up since finishing second in Division 2 in 2004, just a couple of years after the U.P. split into numeric divisions for tennis.

On Tuesday, Ishpeming captured three flight championships, all in doubles, to score 12 points to 11 for runner-up Iron Mountain, which won only one flight but scored points in all but one of the rest.

Munising and West Iron County tied for third with nine points, while Menominee was a relatively close fifth with seven.

Each of the five schools present won at least one flight, with Munising – with two – the only other team to win multiple championships besides the Hematites.

But it proved to be Ishpeming’s day, though that came about almost completely through doubles.

“I feel amazing,” Ishpeming head coach Kaitlin Rich said. “I was watching the last match, and the kids came over with their arms pumped in the air and … I’m just really proud of them.

“This is something that really hasn’t happened in Ishpeming for the tennis program, and it just shows how dedicated these kids are to excellence.

“I have so many kids that are dual sporting. They play baseball and AAU (basketball), and to edge out Iron Mountain by one point? I’m just really proud of them.”

Rich had a relatively inexperienced team and thought it might’ve been too soon for her lineup to contend for the title.

“I have three seniors … one senior had never played before, and I’m really happy because our other two seniors are U.P. champions,” the coach said. “I’m really glad their last meet of the year they took the gold, and I’m really proud of them.

Munising’s Carson Kienitz returns a shot during a No. 1 doubles match.“We’ll have a very stocked team next year as well. … Hopefully, we can work a little bit in the summer and come back for another one next year.”

The Hematites scored 11 of their 12 points in doubles, winning championships at Nos. 2, 3 and 4 and finishing as runners-up at No. 1.

At No. 2, Logan Hurkmans and Ben Rubick scored a 6-1, 6-3 win in the championship match over Tanner Theurerkauf and Landon Daigneau of Menominee.

No. 3 proved to be one of the most competitive finals matches of the day, even though it went only two sets. Ishpeming’s Caden Luoma and Ryan Maki hung on for a 7-6 (7-5), 7-6 (7-4) win over Munising’s duo of Mike Robinson II and Logan Walsh.

And No. 4 appeared to be more typical only by that standard set at No. 3 as the Hematites’ Griffin Argall and Ethan Corp won 6-1, 6-4 in the final over West Iron’s Dominick Brunswick and Jackson Secord.

The only doubles flight not won by Ishpeming still proved important to its team title as the Hematites’ Hayden Hares and Hunter Smith picked up two points for reaching the finals as they lost in another close match to Munising’s Carson Kienitz and Kane Nebel, 6-7 (2-7), 6-2, 6-3.

“Hayden Hares had a little accident (last) weekend,” Rich said. “He had a gash (over the whole) bottom of his foot … but he played it out.”

And also just as important to the Hematites’ success was No. 4 singles player Tramon Gauthier winning his first-round match 6-0, 6-0.

That win gave Ishpeming its one final point to push it over the top.

“We knew the numbers coming in (to the finals) were going to be really tight between us, Iron Mountain, Munising, West Iron,” Rich said. “I told my singles players we need one point somewhere, we need one point and Tramon Gauthier stepped it up and he won his first-round match.

“That sealed it for us, and I couldn’t be prouder of him specifically, too.”

Gauthier advanced to face eventual No. 4 singles champion Zander Birmingham of West Iron in the semifinals, where Birmingham prevailed 6-3, 6-2 before going on to defeat Iron Mountain’s Colin Schneider in the final, 6-4, 6-4, to give the Wykons their lone flight championship of the day.

Iron Mountain picked up its flight title at No. 2 singles, where Kaden Sheldon pulled off a 1-6, 6-4, 6-2 comeback against Menominee’s Danny Birch in the final.

“It just wasn’t enough team-wise for us to come away (with the team title), but I’m really happy for Kaden, he was our one first-place finish for the whole day,” Mountaineers coach Marcus Celello said. “Overall, we finished second and I’m really proud of the guys for that.

Menominee’s Danny Birch chases down a shot at No. 2 singles.“We only won one dual match during the (regular) season, but we had a lot of tough opponents and we split with Ishpeming. We knew that we were going to be right there with them at the end of the day, and it came right down literally to the final match.

“We’ve come a long way. Our singles have been pretty strong all season, but our doubles teams really were a work in progress, and today they showed up and obviously we finished ... a little short, but all the guys improved so much from the beginning of the season.

“We lost to a really good Ishpeming team, and I’m really happy for them.”

Iron Mountain added a pair of runner-up finishes, and just as importantly, got through the first round at four other flights to ring up its 11 points.

Munising’s two titlists came at No. 1 doubles, with Kienitz and Nebel winning, and at No. 3 singles, where Ashton Wymer could make a case for the best championship match of the day when he defeated West Iron’s Drew Alexa 6-2, 6-7 (2-7), 6-3.

“I’m happy with how our guys competed, and I think the program’s in good standing going forward,” said Mustangs head coach Noah Ackerman, himself a Munising tennis star not quite a full decade ago. “That was my goal, taking over, was hopefully we can get (our) foot in the door, get back into competing for U.P.s.”

West Iron’s champion was Birmingham as the Wykons had a pair of runner-up finishes and Munising had one as well.

For Menominee, No. 1 singles player Brock Murphy picked up the Maroons’ flight championship with a 6-0, 6-0 win over Iron Mountain’s Reece Kangas. In fact, Murphy never lost a game all day, as after receiving a bye in the first round, he also posted a 6-0, 6-0 victory over Munising’s Danny Goss in the semifinals.

Menominee also had a pair of runner-up finishes.

Click for full results.

PHOTOS (Top) Ishpeming's Hayden Hares returns a volley at No. 1 doubles during Tuesday’s UP Division 2 Finals at Westwood. (Middle) Munising’s Carson Kienitz returns a shot during a No. 1 doubles match. (Below) Menominee’s Danny Birch chases down a shot at No. 2 singles. (Photos by Alexandria Bournonville.)

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.)