Escanaba Edges Negaunee to Claim Anticipated Battle for Best in UPD1

By Jerry DeRoche
Special for

June 1, 2022

KINGSFORD — All season long, the Escanaba Eskymos and the Negaunee Miners were the top two boys tennis teams in the Upper Peninsula, seemingly on a collision course to fight for the Division 1 championship for the second-straight year.

Turns out that premonition was accurate, and for the second-consecutive season, the Eskymos left with the championship, recording 17 points compared Negaunee’s 15. Marquette finished third with 13, Kingsford took fourth with five, Menominee placed fifth with two points and Gladstone did not score.

Escanaba won flight championships at No. 4 singles, No. 1 doubles, No. 2 doubles and No. 3 doubles. The Eskymos also finished runners-up at No. 2 singles and No. 4 doubles.

“I’m just happy for the kids,” said Escanaba coach Tom Penegor. “This is all about them. They put in a lot of hard work and practice time, and it’s just a bunch of kids that worked together. They deserve this.”

The Eskymos can thank their doubles players for their repeat. At No. 1 doubles, Isaac Maki and Dawson Williams upended James Thomsen and Jace Turri of Negaunee 6-1, 6-2, while No. 2 doubles Joseph Hubert and Joseph Montel defeated Negaunee’s Gavin Downey and Bryce Storms by the same score.

The No. 3 doubles tandem of Connor Smale and Troy Delvaux knocked off Marquette’s Isaac Johnson and Liam McFarren 6-2, 6-4 for the third doubles point.

Escanaba’s other flight championship came off the racquet of Sam Rivera, who battled back from a slow start to get past Mick Kumpala of Negaunee 0-6, 6-2, 6-3.

The No. 1 doubles match was indicative of the Eskymos’ efforts.

“I would say these were some of the best performances we had,” Williams said of his and Maki’s road to the championship. “I’m not going to look back and say, ‘Hey, we could have done better.’”

Marquette tennisWilliams, the ground stroker, and Maki, the imposing net presence at 6-foot-4, drew a bye into the second round where they battled past Kingsford’s Isaac Nash and Ben Trevillian 4-6, 7-6, 6-4. With the win in the final, the Escanaba duo closed the season unbeaten and secured their second-straight U.P. Finals title.

Escanaba’s depth was in evidence during its run Wednesday and all season, Penegor said. 

“We have 35 kids that went out this year, and that’s unusual,” said the seventh-year Escanaba coach. “There are some teams out there that barely have 12 kids. I think part of that is if you have success, that can bring more kids to play. And Escanaba for many years has been a tennis community. We have had a lot of past U.P. champions, a lot of people that played in college.”

Runner-up Negaunee, which had its three-year run at the top of Division 1 in the Upper Peninsula end last season, received championship efforts from No. 2 singles player Gavin Saunders and No. 3 singles Tyler Lajimodiere. Saunders defeated Nathan Howes of Escanaba 6-2, 7-5, while Lajimodiere knocked off Chase Thomsen of Marquette 6-2, 6-3.

Marquette scored victories in the other two flights. Senior Nick Olivier showed his powerful game in beating Luke Syrjala of Negaunee 6-3, 6-1 at No. 1 singles, and Seppi Camilli and Toby Camilli topped Evan St. Peter and Parker LaFond of Escanaba 6-3, 7-5 at No. 4 doubles.

For Olivier, his title was another in the long line of family U.P. singles championships. His father Wayne won the 1983 No. 1 singles flight, while his brother Alec won four titles at No. 1 singles from 2016 to 2019.

Additionally, Nick’s sister Elysa captured top flight singles championships in 2018 and 2019.

The new family champion said he improved his athleticism and his feet during the summer, and he showed that Wednesday as he was often able to run around his backhand in order to blast away with his forehand.

Olivier said his performance was inspired by the late Jordan DeMay, a friend and basketball teammate at Marquette High School who died in March.

“A lot of motivation to do this,” he said, “was for my friend Jordan.”

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PHOTOS (Top) Escanaba's Nathan Howes gets airborne to return a shot during Wednesday's Division 1 Final at Kingsford. (Middle) Marquette's Nick Olivier returns a volley during a No. 1 singles match. (Photos by Dennis Mansfield.)

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.)