Escanaba Ends Title Wait, Stops Negaunee Title Streak

By Ryan Stieg
Special for Second Half

June 2, 2021

NEGAUNEE – Heading into Wednesday’s Upper Peninsula Division 1 Finals, the Escanaba boys tennis team hadn’t won a championship in 14 years. 

Maybe all it needed was some heavy rain to end that title drought.

The Eskymos battled through two lengthy weather delays to win their first U.P. Finals title since 2007. Escanaba’s win also ended Negaunee’s three-season tenure as champion as the Miners finished with 13 points, six behind the Eskymos. 

Escanaba took three of the four doubles finals (Nos. 1, 2 and 3) and Nathan Howes took home the championship at No. 3 singles to lift the team to victory. 

“It’s been 2007 since we’ve won this, and that’s a long time,” Escanaba head coach Tom Penegor said. “I’m just proud of these guys. They worked hard. Our two biggest goals throughout the year were to have fun and to get better.

Negaunee tennis“Normally in past years, Negaunee was always the team to beat. We’d play them early in the year and we’d be somewhat close to them, but by the end of the year, they’d widen the gap. This year, we actually closed the gap. It’s a great accomplishment for these guys because Negaunee, that’s a program that we try to get close to and this year, we did and passed them. So I’m very proud of that. Plus, we only have four seniors, so hopefully we can come back and do some damage again next year. That’s something to shoot for.” 

Negaunee got title wins from Will Luke at No. 1 singles and Luke Syrjala at No. 2, while also getting the victory at No. 4 doubles to keep pace with the Eskymos. However, those just weren’t enough to overtake them. 

Even though Negaunee’s reign at the top came to an end, Miners head coach Kyle Saari was proud of how his team of newcomers performed. 

“If you look at it, we entered this year, we had 10 new kids in the varsity lineup and this is kind of a big unknown,” he said. “When you end up entering the UPs, it’s kind of seeing and kind of trying to predict how they will respond on this day. That includes how do they respond to a 1 or 2 seed, how do they respond if they have a first-round match. And I think kind of as a whole, what it turned into for us today, it was just pretty much a learning experience, how to handle that down time.

“If you kind of look at the day as a whole, Escanaba had a terrific day; hats off to them. They responded and they had a really strong showing at 3 singles today, at 4 singles. With them being able to get through the finals into those flights, that really kind of set the table for them to be successful later in the day.”

Menominee finished third with 10 points and won the last match of the day as Danny Birch defeated Escanaba’s Connor Smale in a three-set thriller (6-4, 2-6, 6-2) at No. 4 singles. Marquette took fourth with five points, followed by Gladstone with two and Kingsford with one. 

PHOTOS: Escanaba’s Nathan Howes returns a serve during his No. 3 singles match Wednesday in Negaunee. He went on to win the match and the flight. (Middle) The Miners’ Will Luke serves during a No. 1 singles match. He finished the season undefeated. (Photos by Ryan Stieg.)

Lacrosse Finals Move to U-M Among Headlines as Spring Sports Ramp Up

By Geoff Kimmerly senior editor

April 9, 2024

The Girls & Boys Lacrosse Finals will be played at University of Michigan Lacrosse Stadium for the first time, one of the most notable changes for this season as sports ramp up for more than 100,000 athletes anticipated to participate this spring for Michigan High School Athletic Association member schools.

The MHSAA sponsors postseason competition each spring in baseball, girls and boys lacrosse, girls soccer, softball, girls and boys track & field, boys golf (Lower and Upper Peninsula) and girls golf (UP), and girls (LP) and boys (UP) tennis.

The U-M Lacrosse Stadium opened for competition in 2018 and seats 2,000 spectators. The Girls Lacrosse Finals will be played Friday, June 7, with Division 1 at 4 p.m. and Division 2 at 7 p.m. The Boys Lacrosse Finals will be played the following day, June 8, with Division 2 at 11 a.m. and Division 1 at 2 p.m.

Girls lacrosse also has a significant format adjustment this season, as games will be played with four 12-minutes quarters instead of the previous two halves, in part to allow coaches more opportunities to provide direct instruction during a game. Two more rules changes are expected to improve flow of play – players awarded a free position outside of the critical scoring area no longer must come to a stop and settled stance before self-starting, and false start penalties outside the critical scoring area have been eliminated.

Several more rules changes will be noticeable this spring:

In boys lacrosse, a change was made to enhance player safety. Play will stop immediately any time a player’s helmet comes off, and that player may not return until the next dead ball after play continues.

Fair and legal starts are a continued emphasis for track & field, and a rule change will allow for movement before the start of the race as long as a competitor does not leave their mark with a hand or a foot after the “set” command, or make forward motion before the starting device is activated.

A significant rule change in softball alters pitch delivery mechanics. The pitcher may now have both feet off the ground at the same time when releasing the ball as long as both feet remain within the 24-inch width of a pitching plate and the pitcher does not replant the pivot foot before delivering the pitch.

Another change in softball requires that a playbook/playcard be worn on the wrist or kept in a back pocket to reduce distractions. If worn by the pitcher, the equipment must be worn on the non-pitching arm. Similarly in baseball, a wristband with plays or instructions will be permitted but must be a single, solid color, and for pitchers may not contain the colors white or gray or be otherwise distracting. Baseball players must wear this wristband on the wrist or forearm, and pitchers may wear one only on their non-pitching arm.

Also in baseball, a rule change allows for one-way communication devices worn by the catcher to receive instructions from the dugout while on defense, for the purpose of calling pitches. The coach must be inside the dugout/bench area to use the communication device.

Golfers now are required to participate in at least four competitions for the high school team prior to representing that school team in an MHSAA Regional or Final. Those four regular-season competitions may be 9 or 18-hole events.

In tennis, for the first time in Lower Peninsula play, a No. 1 doubles flight from a non-qualifying team will be able to advance from its Regional to Finals competition. To do so, that No. 1 doubles flight must finish first or second at its Regional, and the No. 1 singles player from that team also must have qualified for the Finals individually by finishing first or second in Regional play.

On the soccer pitch, two officiating-related changes will be especially noticeable. Officials now may stop the clock to check on an injured player without that player being required to leave the match – previously that player would have to sub out. Also, categories for fouls have been redefined: careless (which is a foul but does not receive a card), reckless (a foul with a yellow card) and excessive force (foul with red card). 

The 2023-24 Spring campaign culminates with postseason tournaments, as the championship schedule begins with the Upper Peninsula Girls & Boys Golf and Boys Tennis Finals during the week of May 27 and wraps up with Girls Soccer, Baseball and Softball Finals on June 15. Here is a complete list of winter tournament dates:

Districts – May 23-June 1
Regional Semifinals – June 5
Regional Finals, Quarterfinals – June 8
Semifinals – June 13-14
Finals – June 15

LP Boys Regionals – May 28-June 1
UP Girls & Boys Finals – May 29, 30, 31 or June 1
LP Boys Finals – June 7-8

Boys Lacrosse
Pre-Regionals – May 10-15
Regionals – May 16-29
Quarterfinals – May 31 or June 1
Semifinals – June 5
Finals – June 8

Girls Lacrosse
Pre-Regionals – May 16-18, or May 20
Regionals – May 22-June 1
Semifinals – June 5
Finals – June 7

Girls Soccer
Districts – May 22-June 1
Regionals – June 4-8
Semifinals – June 11-12
Finals – June 14-15

Districts – May 23-June 1
Regionals – June 8
Quarterfinals – June 11
Semifinals – June 13-14
Finals – June 15

LP Girls Regionals – May 15-18
UP Boys Finals – May 29, 30, 31 or June 1
LP Girls Finals – May 31-June 1

Track & Field
Regionals – May 16-18
Finals – June 1