By Craig Remsburg
Special for Second Half
NEGAUNEE — It came down to the last match of the day.
Iron Mountain needed a win at No. 1 doubles to forge a tie with Westwood for the Upper Peninsula Division 2 boys tennis title.
Coach Greg Stegall’s Mountaineers got what they wanted.
Iron Mountain’s Danny Willman and Jordan Wadge outlasted Munising’s Joel Werner and Nick Cercone in a grueling match, 4-6, 7-6 (7-4), 6-4, to compile 13 team points for a share of the division crown with defending champion Westwood.
“I’m really happy,” Stegall said. “We didn’t come in here as the favorite to win, but everything went well for us and other teams had some upsets.
“My No. 1 doubles had to win that match, my No. 4 doubles (Mark Koeschner and Jake LeFebre) winning was the biggest surprise and my No. 3 singles (Tyson Wadge) winning was huge for him. He had lost to his opponent (Brett Fredrickson of Westwood) twice this season and wasn’t looking forward to meeting him.”
The Mountaineers’ Willman said he and Wadge were “very consistent” in their match, save for the first set.
“(Munising) was returning everything and we knew we had to work harder,” Willman said.
Added Wadge: “Coach (Stegall) told us to take it slower, keep the ball in play and let them make mistakes.”
Like Iron Mountain, Westwood placed four flights in the finals. The Patriots won two of them.
“I’m really proud of the guys,” said Westwood coach Chris Jackson. “I didn’t know how things would pan out going in, but overall, the team did well.
“This was the most balanced division since I’ve been here (six years). Every flight had a definite favorite with no trend(s).
“Depth led us,” he added. “There was only one flight where we took a zero.”
Westwood has now won three of the last four division titles, two outright.
Jake Kerkela of Westwood captured the No. 4 singles crown, 6-1, 6-1, over Munising’s Jared Immel. It was the sophomore Kerkela’s first title in this, his first season, on the varsity.
“My serve was good today,” he said. “I tried to keep the ball alive and not get too crazy.”
Brandon Benda and Hunter Roose — who won last year’s No. 4 doubles championship — gave the Patriots their other triumph, at No. 3 doubles over West Iron County’s Kevin Ballinger and Tyler McCarthy, 6-3, 6-0.
“(West Iron) played the alleys well,” Roose said, “so we adjusted by moving toward the alleys more.”
Added Benda: “We took control in the second set. We placed our shots well, got to the net and spiked the ball.”
Claiming the No. 1 singles championship was Micah Heath of Gwinn. He beat Munising’s Joel Schramm, 6-3, 6-3; Schramm was trying to become the Mustangs’ third straight winner in the flight. Noah Ackerman had won two straight.
“From Day 1 (this season), my goal was to win the U.P.’s” Heath said Thursday. “I’ve been trying since my freshman year and now, I’ve reached my goal. This is icing on the cake.”
Heath said his strategy was to “be consistent and keep my head in the zone.”
“I get frustrated when things don’t go my way,” he said.
That wasn’t the case Thursday, as Heath overcame an early bout of nerves to largely control his match.
“I was a little nervous early, but then I hit a couple of points and some confidence set in,” he said.
“At the beginning of the second set, I won two straight games to go up 2-1, and the momentum started going my way.”
Gwinn coach Dan Turecky said Heath’s “control of the play” was the difference in the match.
“Micah was mentally tough and confident,” the coach said. “That was the difference in the match. I’m so proud of him.”
Said Munising coach Rod Gendron: “Micah’s the best player in the U.P. He played great today.”
Munising’s lone win came at No. 2 doubles, where Mikey Graves and Ian McInnis knocked off Jake Kierzek and Nathen Nelson of Westwood, 1-6, 6-3, 6-3.
“We were down many times, but we stayed together,” Graves said. “We started playing with each other and not as individuals.
Added McInnis: “We weren’t really focused in the first set, but the last two sets, we were ready."
Munising placed four flights in the finals, but won just the one.
“I’m extremely happy with four flights in the finals,” Gendron commented. “My guys left it all on the court.”
Ishpeming picked up a win at No. 2 singles, where Cody Johnson beat Iron Mountain’s Luke Truscott, 6-2, 6-1.
“I was really nervous coming in,” Johnson said. “I started off slow, but took control the beginning of the second set. My serve has always been good.
“It’s crazy. (Winning a U.P. individual title) is not done very often at Ishpeming. It has been an exciting year.”
Said Ishpeming coach Erl Langness: “Cody has been consistent all year. Whether he wins or loses, he puts forth the same effort.”
Johnson has the distinction of participating in MHSAA Finals play in football, wrestling and tennis this school year.
"I couldn’t ask for anything more,” he said.
PHOTOS: (Top) Iron Mountain's Tyson Wadge returns the ball to Westwood's Brett Fredrickson during the championship match at No. 3 singles at the MHSAA Upper Peninsula Division 2 Final held at Negaunee High School on Thursday. Wadge prevailed, 6-0, 6-0. (Middle) Gwinn's Micah Heath earned the No. 1 singles flight championship at the U.P. Division 2 Final. (Photos by Elizabeth Bailey.)
Owen Jackson ♦ Traverse City St. Francis
Junior ♦ Tennis
Playing his first season at No. 1 singles, Jackson won matches at that flight over Traverse City Central and Petoskey. St. Francis plays in Lower Peninsula Division 4 and is ranked No. 2 this fall, while Central plays in LP Division 2 and Petoskey is ranked No. 8 in LP Division 3. Jackson is 16-3 this season.
The top-flight standout has been climbing the lineup throughout his career with the Gladiators. Jackson finished 39-4 as a freshman and won the No. 3 flight at the LPD4 Finals as St. Francis won the team championship. He moved up to No. 2 singles as a sophomore, finishing 34-9 and also winning his flight at the Finals. Jackson also plays golf and was part of the lineup that finished 14th in LPD3 this spring.
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Past 2023-24 Honorees
Sept. 1: Rachel Forsyth, Ann Arbor Pioneer cross country - Report
(PHOTOS courtesy of Owen Jackson.)