Dow Riding Record-Setting Regular Season Into Pursuit of 1st Finals Title Since 2016
By Paul Costanzo
Special for MHSAA.com
September 28, 2022
The Midland Dow boys tennis team has one big goal this season:
Win the MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division 2 Finals title.
And the Chargers aren’t shying away from talking about it.
“That’s the goal from the beginning – that’s always the goal,” Dow senior Thomas Ladwein said. “Why would you ever shoot for something less when you know it’s achievable? Shoot for your highest goal possible.”
Dow is coming off a third-place finish at the 2021 Final, and returned nearly all of its lineup for this season.
That’s led to a No. 1 ranking in Division 2 and a 24–0-1 record, a program best for regular-season dual victories.
“Last year was really special. I don’t remember ever having a group of guys that exceeded expectations as much as they did,” Dow coach Terry Schwartzkopf said. “That told me a little something about their character, their psyche and grit. I had an inkling we could be something special (this year). I did not expect the camaraderie, the character, the drive and determination this team has shown all season. I didn’t realize it would be as amazing as it’s been.”
Schwartzkopf knows an amazing tennis team when he sees it. He’s coached Dow to six Finals titles, including five straight from 2009-13. The latest title came in 2016.
Every Dow team since 2008 – outside of 2020 when the team title was decided in a dual format – has finished in the top five at the Finals.
Upholding that tradition could create a lot of pressure for players wearing a Dow uniform, but they don’t see it that way.
“There’s not extra pressure, but there’s definitely a certain expectation where, ‘Oh, it’s Dow High, they’re supposed to be pretty good,’” Ladwein said. “I feel like, up until this year, we haven’t been that strong. But this year, we’re a force to be reckoned with. So maybe there’s more pressure this year. You’re forced to play at your peak every time, but it’s good practice.”
Schwartzkopf also has made sure the program’s past doesn’t weigh on the current players by incorporating it into the present. Several former players who played large roles as Dow built its elite status have come back to help out this current team.
“That’s the program I’ve strived to create, one of players leading players,” Schwartzkopf said. “One where there’s a family atmosphere, and the past, present and future are all connected. … We’re fighting to reclaim the history of those guys that have come back and worked with them.”
It’s not something current players take for granted.
“It’s definitely an inspiration,” sophomore No. 1 singles player Austin King said. “They come to practice with us and give us a lot of tips. They give us little pointers on what we can work on and what to do. They’ve been there and done it, and won a state title. It’s good hearing from them.”
The Chargers also have plenty of personal experience to draw upon as they enter the postseason, which begins with the Regional tournament on Oct. 5.
Nine of the 12 starters played in the 2021 Finals, led by Ladwein and Aaron Li, who were finalists at No. 1 doubles.
King is back at No. 1 singles, while Li has moved to No. 2 singles. Logan Yu (No. 3) and Nimai Patel (No. 4) round out the singles lineup and also have Finals experience.
Ladwein is now teamed with Boaz Qui, who played at No. 2 doubles a year ago. Qui’s former partner, Roofy Elsaadany, is now playing No. 2 doubles with Aiden Tanis, one of three players who did not play in the 2021 Finals.
The No. 3 doubles team of Vishagan Karthikeyan and Shubhan Nagarkar returns intact after advancing to the semifinals a year ago.
At No. 4 doubles are the other newcomers to the lineup, Konnor Janeczko and Dominic Griffin.
That experience, mixed with a schedule that’s featured all but one team in the Division 2 top 10 and several other ranked teams, should have the Chargers prepared for the stretch run. It certainly seems to have paid off to this point.
“I think these guys have like an 80-percent tiebreak record,” Schwartzkopf said. “They get pushed, and for the most part they have this ability to focus and finish.”
Being able to focus and finish now could mean bringing a seventh Finals title back to Dow.
“It would be awesome,” Ladwein said. “To be able to go out my senior year, without ever winning a title the last four years – to speak of it and always come close, it’s always kind of hanging over your head. So, to be able to go in my senior year and win it all, personally, I’d find more joy in accomplishing that.”
Paul Costanzo served as a sportswriter at The Port Huron Times Herald from 2006-15, including three years as lead sportswriter, and prior to that as sports editor at the Hillsdale Daily News from 2005-06. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Genesee, Lapeer, St. Clair, Sanilac, Huron, Tuscola, Saginaw, Bay, Arenac, Midland and Gladwin counties.
PHOTOS (Top) No. 1 doubles pair Thomas Ladwein, left, and Boaz Qui are pumped up during a Dow match this season. (Middle) No. 3 doubles player Vishagan Karthikeyan returns a volley. (Photos courtesy of the Midland Dow boys tennis program.)
Negaunee Caps Near-Perfect Season by Taking Back Top Spot in UPD1
By Jerry DeRoche
Special for MHSAA.com
May 31, 2023
KINGSFORD – The Negaunee Miners are no strangers to lifting Upper Peninsula Division 1 tennis title hardware.
Coach Kyle Saari’s program has been a powerhouse over the past 14 years, winning eight championships and finishing runner-up three times.
Still, the Miners entered the 2023 event having finished second behind Escanaba the last two seasons. But this Negaunee squad was dripping with confidence, having gone through the regular campaign unbeaten and barely losing a set along the way.
With that in mind, the Miners' championship Wednesday at Kingsford High School was rather expected. But take nothing away from the 12 Negaunee players who shined nearly as brightly as the blazing sun overhead with seven flight championships and one second-place finish to recapture the trophy in emphatic fashion.
The Miners finished the day with 23 points, well in front of 2022 champion Escanaba, which recorded 11 points. Kingsford took third with eight, Marquette placed fourth with six, Westwood wound up fifth with five and Gladstone did not post a win and finished sixth.
“From day one, they wanted to bring a U.P. title back home,” Saari said of his squad. “So for us to take seven out of eight finals, it’s a great feeling. You have to play your best on the final day, and today they were able to do that. They answered the bell.”
Frankly, the Miners have done that all season, to a remarkable degree. Negaunee not only beat every opponent they faced along the way, the Miners' players won a staggering 155 of 160 matches they played combined.
And to cap it all off, Negaunee lost just two of 32 sets on the final day of the season.
“This year has been kind of unprecedented,” Saari said. “I don’t think you can ever see (155-5) coming. Our 2012 team was 162-7, and this team beat that as far as winning percentage.
“The unique thing was they were able to answer the challenge every single day. They’re a humble group, they do it the right way and they handle it the right way, too.”
The Miners swept the four doubles flights. At No. 1 doubles, Jace Turri and James Thomson knocked off Kingsford’s Ben Trevillian and Gabe Lafraniere 6-1, 7-5, while Gavin Jacobson and Gavin Downey defeated Gabe Tossava and Reid Frustaglio of Westwood 6-1, 6-1 at No. 2 doubles.
In the No. 3 doubles flight, Philip Nelson and Zack Brundage posted a 7-5, 6-2 win over Nick Chaillier and Vincent Guindon of Escanaba, and at No. 4 doubles, Ethan Harris and Brandon Borlace upended Brett Berglund and Isaac Lebouef of Kingsford 6-3, 6-3.
The only flight that didn’t end with a Negaunee win was No. 1 singles, where Escanaba senior Dawson Williams defeated Negaunee senior Luke Syrjala in two tough sets, 7-6 (2), 6-4.
Williams was overwhelmed with emotion after putting his name in the U.P. boys tennis record book.
“I’m lost for words right now,” Williams said, fighting off tears. “I never thought when I was a freshman walking into tennis, I’d be winning a U.P. title at one singles.”
Williams said the matchup with Syrjala, their fifth duel of the season, came with the added difficulty of playing a left-hander.
“It is always tough to deal with a lefty, and he’s a very competitive player,” said Williams, who won four of the five matches with Negaunee’s top singles player along the way.
But in the overall competition, Negaunee’s depth was too much for all the other competitors.
“We feel that from one singles to four singles, on any day, they could have each other’s (flight) numbers, so all four of them were able to push each other during the course of the year to make us better,” Saari said. “And I think that’s true within our doubles lineup, too.”
PHOTOS (Top) Negaunee’s James Thomson returns a volley during a No. 1 doubles match, with partner Jace Turri. (Middle) The Miners are presented with the championship trophy Wednesday. (Below) Escanaba’s Dawson Williams sends a backhand during the championship match at No. 1 singles. (Photos by Dennis Mansfield.)