FH Northern Finishes Perfect Repeat Run

October 16, 2020

By Perry A. Farrell
Special for Second Half

MIDLAND – The effects of COVID-19 on the MHSAA Lower Peninsula Boys Tennis Finals were obvious Friday morning.

For starters, the crowds were much smaller at the Midland Tennis Center. Due to COVID-19 precautions, the tournament was switched to a head-to-head team format that saw a total of 64 teams spread out through four divisions and 16 sites.

But at the Division 2 Final, the end result remained the same as the season before.

Top-seeded and undefeated Forest Hills Northern took on No. 2 seed Mattawan. The No. 2 doubles team of Aaryan Singh and Jack Sparhawk sealed the championship for Northern with their 6-0, 6-2 victory over Carson Brinks and Sam Sullivan the fifth and deciding point.

“I’m just glad the MHSAA figured out a way for us to play,’’ said Singh. “This is sweeter for me than last year because this is my first year as a starter. A month ago, I didn’t know if we’d even get a chance to play.’’

“I love the format,’’ said Northern coach David Sukup. “I’m a team coach anyway. I coach football, I coach swimming, I coach baseball. I like the team format. It’s better. It’s better for kids. Everybody is involved. You get to sit and watch all of your kids in the finals. We see all eight flights.’’

Clearly the most entertaining match was at No. 1 singles where the effervescent Nathaniel Webster of Mattawan took on Northern’s Peter Renucci.

Distributing enough energy for himself and his teammates, Webster’s enthusiasm was infectious as he yelled and screamed throughout the match, encouraging his teammates in the process. His 6-2, 6-1 victory was one of the few bright spots for Mattawan.

The reigning champs were unfazed by the rain and cold, which forced part of the semifinal flight indoors.

Owen Goodrich got the first points for Northern at No. 4 singles, beating Andrews Williams 6-1, 6-0. Moments later Northern was up 2-0 after the No. 3 doubles team of Drew McKenzie and Luke Zhu prevailed, 6-4, 6-0.

“I was glad we didn’t play outdoors,’’ said Goodrich. “It’s nice and warm and comfortable inside. The thing about this format is I’m out there trying to win and I’m looking over at each side cheering my teammates on. This is definitely a team format.’’

Northern’s Ryan Lee won the No. 3 singles match, 1-6, 6-2, 6-0 while teammate Sid Varma won at No. 2 in three sets after also dropping the first. Justin Lee and Cole Rynbrandt at No. 1 doubles and Ryan Stewart and Anderson Halland at No. 4 both won in straight sets.

Just before the final was about to start outdoors, ominous weather appeared and the rest of the tournament was moved inside.

“Outdoors, indoors, outdoors … it’s a different way to try to win the title,’’ said Sukup. “We won the title last year. We’re glad we’re in the finals with a different format. Long day.”

Mattawan coach Matt Boven also liked the different format.

“It has been a really tough journey to get here, but I feel like my guys are playing their best tennis and they’re ready to go,” he said.

“I absolutely love the format. In years past you’ll have a couple of flights remaining and everyone is kind of sitting around waiting. With this format you truly figure out who is the best team. That’s the nature of the MHSAA; find the best team and find the best player. I feel like this format unequivocally does that. 

“I will push for it next year. Right now, I have all 12 of my players on the court trying to determine a championship. I think that’s the way it should be.’’

In the semifinals, Northern faced Birmingham Seaholm and prevailed 6-2, while Forest Hills Central couldn’t advance to face Northern for a third time this season, falling to Mattawan, 5-3.

PHOTOS: (Top) Forest Hills Northern’s Peter Renucci awaits a serve during Friday’s Division 2 Final. (Middle) Mattawan No. 1 singles standout Nathaniel Webster led his team to a runner-up finish. (Click to see more from HighSchoolSportsScene.com.)

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:

Bay & ThumbWin 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.

No. 3 doubles player Vishagan Karthikeyan returns a volley. 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 CostanzoPaul 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 paulcostanzo3@gmail.com 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.)