FH Northern Finishes Long Climb Back to #1

By Jason Schmitt
Special for MHSAA.com

October 19, 2019

ANN ARBOR – Cole Rynbrandt had been there before. He’d seen his older brothers capture individual MHSAA Finals championships.

On Saturday, he wanted to experience that achievement for himself.

The Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern junior and his doubles partner, Justin Lee, finished off a barn-burner of a tie-breaker, defeating Detroit U-D Jesuit’s Charlie Young and John Dahmer, 6-2, 7-6 (6), in the No. 2 doubles championship match, helping seal not only a flight title for Rynbrandt himself, but clinching the school’s first team Finals title since 1998.

“Knowing that (our win) clinched the team title makes it all that much sweeter,” Rynbrandt said. “The team hasn’t won a title in about 20 years and two of my older brothers had won state titles, so it’s something I’ve always wanted to do.”

What made it even more special is that Rynbrandt’s older brothers – Quentin and Aidan – both won their titles at No. 2 doubles as well. Oh, and to top it off, Saturday’s Lower Peninsula Division 2 Finals were played at the University of Michigan.

“I’ve been a die-hard Michigan fan my whole life, so to play on these courts has been so incredible,” Cole Rynbrandt said. “I’ve always dreamed of going to school here and to play on these courts.”

The Huskies’ 1998 title came when they competed in Division 3.

“It feels good that we could go out and win it,” said longtime Northern head coach Dave Sukup, who also was the head coach of that 1998 team. “We’ve come close a lot of times, some seconds and thirds and fourths. It feels good to fight back. Earlier this year we were (ranked) fourth or fifth, but we’ve come back and worked for this.”

The Huskies finished with 28 team points and had seven of eight flights reach Saturday’s semifinals, with four making it to the championship round. Along with Rynbrandt and Lee, two other doubles teams won titles for the Huskies. The No. 1 team of Nav Dalmia and Jeff Consolla defeated Jesuit’s Kagan Shetterly and Theodore Yaldoo, 6-3, 6-4, in their championship final. And Northern’s Jack Sparhawk and Ty Ulchman defeated Jesuit’s Teodore Melnyczuk and Nathan Comerford in the No. 3 doubles championship match, 6-4, 7-5.

Jesuit, which along with Birmingham Seaholm shared the lead with Northern after the first day, sent all four of its doubles teams into Saturday’s finals. But the Cubs came up empty from there, finishing with 25 team points – good for second overall.

“They definitely were the favorite (coming in), but we had every opportunity to take it from them,” Jesuit head coach Jim Slaughter said. “They were the ones who had to play tense, and we could have come in and snatched it. But it didn’t happen today. We didn’t do the things that we normally do. We didn’t play our game. That happens.”

At No. 1 singles, Mattawan’s Nathaniel Webster defeated Berkley junior Adnan Alousi in the final, 6-1, 6-2. It was redemption for Webster, who lost in last year’s championship match.

“I wanted to win a state championship so bad,” said Webster, who did not drop a set and lost just seven games over his four matches on the weekend. “My team, we were so excited to compete at the state championships. I’m glad I could win this for myself and for them.”

Birmingham Groves finished third overall thanks to a pair of individual championships Saturday. Senior Brett Kovan defeated Northern’s Owen Goodrich in three sets in the No. 4 singles final, 6-2, 5-7, 6-3. The No. 1 seed entered the tournament with just two losses and entered the match against Goodrich having lost just a single game over his previous three matches.

The Falcons were also the top seed at No. 4 doubles, where the team of Will Hess and Will Kostello breezed to a 6-2, 6-1 victory over Jesuit’s Jake Kuredjian and Alex Mackillop in their final.

The final two individual flight championships were both won by Midland Dow – which finished fifth overall with 19 team points. Freshman Colson Wells – the second seed – defeated top-seeded Nolan Kovan of Groves, 6-3, 6-2, in the championship match at No. 2 singles. And senior Saketh Kamaraju needed three sets to defeat Portage Northern’s Graham Holley, 7-6, 6-7 (4), 6-2, in the No. 3 singles final. 

The team title was the third overall for Sukup and his program, and it may not take 20 years to get to number four. The Huskies are young. They graduate just three starters and should return all four of their singles players in 2020.

“We’re really young,” Sukup said. “We’ll have all of our singles back and a good chunk of our doubles, so we’re excited about that.”

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PHOTOS: (Top) Forest Hills Northern's Nav Dalmia (front) and Jeff Consolla celebrate their No. 1 doubles title that contributed to the Huskies' first team championship since 1998. (Middle) Mattawan's Nathaniel Webster won the No. 1 singles flight title. (Click to see more from HighSchoolSportsScene.com.)

West Iron Makes Every Point Count Winning Finals Title by Slimmest of Margins

By Jerry DeRoche
Special for MHSAA.com

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.)