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.
“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.
“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.
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.)
Owen Jackson ♦ Traverse City St. Francis
Junior ♦ Tennis
Playing his first season at No. 1 singles, Jackson won matches at that flight over Traverse City Central and Petoskey. St. Francis plays in Lower Peninsula Division 4 and is ranked No. 2 this fall, while Central plays in LP Division 2 and Petoskey is ranked No. 8 in LP Division 3. Jackson is 16-3 this season.
The top-flight standout has been climbing the lineup throughout his career with the Gladiators. Jackson finished 39-4 as a freshman and won the No. 3 flight at the LPD4 Finals as St. Francis won the team championship. He moved up to No. 2 singles as a sophomore, finishing 34-9 and also winning his flight at the Finals. Jackson also plays golf and was part of the lineup that finished 14th in LPD3 this spring.
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(PHOTOS courtesy of Owen Jackson.)