Finals Preview: Old Favorites, New Possibilities Highlight Title Pursuits

By Geoff Kimmerly senior editor

October 13, 2022

The favorites are often familiar at the Lower Peninsula Boys Tennis Finals. But last season showed us there’s plenty of room for new achievements – and with more possibilities this weekend.

Troy in Division 1 and Traverse City St. Francis in Division 4 were first-time champions last fall, and Northville and Big Rapids are among candidates hoping to make similar history as play begins Thursday in Division 4 and Friday in the other three brackets. All championship matches will be played Saturday.

See below for a look at several contenders, and check out the MHSAA Website for brackets and more (Final rounds will be played at sites listed first below):

Lower Peninsula Division 1 at Hope College & Holland Christian

Top-ranked: 1. Bloomfield Hills, 2. Troy, 3. Northville

Troy was first with 30 points, Bloomfield Hills second with 26 and Northville third with 23 last season, and they figure to dominate the top of the standings again in some order. Bloomfield Hills is seeking its first championship since winning back-to-back in 2017 and 2018, while Northville is playing for its first top-two finish.

Bloomfield Hills: The Black Hawks enter this weekend with four top-seeded flights, three second-seeded flights and a fourth seed. Senior Daniel Stojanov is seeded first at No. 2 singles and the reigning champion at that flight, while junior Aaron Rose is the second seed at No. 3 singles after winning No. 4 last year. Freshman Connor Shaya is the top seed at No. 4 singles, with seniors Drew Davis and Toni Vasile top-seeded at No. 3 doubles and junior Kierth Lingam and sophomore Dominic Pascarella top-seeded at No. 4. Pascarella won the No. 4 flight last season with a different partner.

Troy: The Colts’ repeat pursuit will be keyed by seven seeded flights, including the favorites at No. 1 and No. 2 doubles – seniors Srihari Ananthalwan and Rushil Kagithala, and freshman Derrick Kim and junior Nish Palepu, respectively. Ananthalwan was part of the No. 2 champion last season, and two singles players are returning Finals runners-up – junior Derek Blackwell, who played No. 2 in 2021 and is seeded eighth at No. 1; and Haresh Anand, who played No. 4 last season and moved to No. 2 this fall.

Northville: Sachiv Kumar was a headliner last season jumping from the fifth seed to the No. 1 singles championship, and he’s seeded second at that flight this time. All eight Mustangs flights are seeded, including two more in the second slots – sophomore Josh Kim at No. 4 singles, and senior Varun Varre and sophomore Brian Zhang at No. 4 doubles.

Clayton Anderson, Rochester junior: Another incredible story from last season, the reigning No. 1 singles runner-up made his run to the championship match while unseeded. This fall he is 22-0, with an early-season win over Kumar.

Dimitri Moriarty, Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice senior: Last season’s second seed is the third seed this time and enters 20-3, with those defeats to Kumar, Anderson and LPD3 No. 1 singles top seed Owen DeMuth of Cranbrook Kingswood.

Lower Peninsula Division 2 at Midland Tennis Center & Midland High 

Top-ranked: 1. Midland Dow, 2. Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern, 3 Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central

Birmingham Groves last fall ended Forest Hills Northern’s two-year reign atop this division, edging the Huskies by a point 27-26 while Dow tied for third with 20. Groves is ranked No. 6 heading into this weekend, while Dow is seeking its first championship since 2016. Dow and Forest Hills Northern both are undefeated, but tied in an Aug. 27 match. FHN’s other tie came against No. 4 Mattawan. Forest Hills Central is seeking its first championship since winning back-to-back in 2014 and 2015, and its losses are once to FHN, twice to Dow and once to No. 5 Birmingham Seaholm.

Midland Dow: All eight Chargers flights are seeded third or higher, with five top seeds. Senior Thomas Ladwein is seeded first at No. 1 doubles with junior Boaz Qui after winning the flight last year with now-junior Aaron Li – the top seed at No. 2 singles. Junior Roofy Elsaadany and senior Aiden Tanis are the top seed at No. 2, with junior Vishagen Karthikeyan and senior Shubhan Nagarkar the top seeds at No. 3 doubles. Sophomore Nimai Patel is the top seed at No. 4 singles. Sophomore Austin King is the third seed at No. 1 after reaching the quarterfinals last season.

Forest Hills Northern: Seven flights are seeded, and all seven are seeded fourth or higher with two singles and three doubles pairs on the second seed lines. Senior Anderson Halland was part of the No. 2 doubles champion last season and is teaming up with junior Aidan Beyer for the fourth seed at No. 1. Senior Kyle Wang is back after finishing runner-up last year at No. 3 doubles, and he’s seeded second at No. 2 this weekend with junior Sam Deroos.

Forest Hills Central: No. 1 singles senior Sammy Yin is the top seed at the top flight, with six more flights seeded between third and fifth in their respective brackets. Yin made the semifinals last season, also as the top seed, and enters the weekend 32-3 with two wins over King this fall.

Connor Stafford, Grosse Pointe South senior: He’s seeded second at No. 1 singles after also reaching the semifinals last season. He’s 14-3 and defeated Yin on Sept. 10 in their lone match this fall.

Nolen Kovan, Birmingham Groves senior: The reigning No. 1 singles runner-up upset Yin last year to reach the championship match and is back as the fourth seed. He’s 17-7 but with five losses to LPD1 contenders and the two LPD2 defeats to Yin and King, those two both coming Aug. 27. He defeated Stafford last week in their lone meeting of the season.

Lower Peninsula Division 3 at Mason, East Lansing & Haslett

Top-ranked: 1. Ann Arbor Greenhills, 2. Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood, 3. Detroit Country Day

No team other than the three mentioned above has finished among the top two in this division since 2013, and no one else has won the Division 3 title outside of those three since the first fall LP boys tennis season in 2007. Cranbrook has won the last two team championships and six of the last seven, with Greenhills claiming the 2019 title. The Cranes won last season with 32 points, five more than Country Day and seven more than the third-place Gryphons. Greenhills defeated Country Day by six points to win last week’s Regional.

Ann Arbor Greenhills: For the first time since 2018, three-time No. 1 singles champion Mert Oral isn’t topping the lineup. But senior Chakor Rajendra has taken over and earned the top seed coming off the No. 3 singles title last season and having won the No. 4 championship when he was a freshman. Total, the Gryphons are seeded first at seven flights. Senior Rishi Verma is the reigning champion at No. 2 singles and the top seed at that flight as he seeks his third title after also winning No. 3 in 2019, while sophomore Kabir Rajendra is the top seed at No. 3 singles after finishing runner-up at No. 4 last fall. Greenhills didn’t make a doubles final in 2021, but is seeded to sweep with senior Mustafa Zirapury and junior Alex Ye at No. 1, senior Ismael Metwally and junior Lucas Nor at No. 2, seniors Arjun Prabhakar and Dylan Carvette at No. 3 and junior Charles Branch and freshman Ajay Purohit at No. 4.

Cranbrook Kingswood: All eight flights are seeded second, third or fourth, with five second seeds and some experienced contenders leading the way. Senior Owen DeMuth is seeded second at No. 1 singles after finishing runner-up the last two seasons at that flight. Junior Caden Che is the third seed at No. 3 coming off last season’s championship at No. 4 singles. Junior Andrew Fink is seeded second at No. 1 doubles with freshman Jace Bernard after winning No. 2 last season with sophomore Ryan Michaels, who is seeded fourth at No. 2 singles. Sophomore Aryan Tiwari was part of the No. 4 doubles runner-up last year and this weekend is seeded second at No. 2 with senior Evan Foltyn.

Detroit Country Day: All eight flights are seeded, with freshman Luke Zhang leading the way as the top seed at No. 4 singles and senior Clay Hartje the second seed at No. 3. Hartje was part of the No. 3 doubles champion in 2019 and the No. 2 doubles runner-up last fall.

Michael Mascarin, St. Clair senior: The No. 3 singles runner-up as a freshman, Mascarin played No. 1 doubles last season (reaching the semifinals) and is the third seed at No. 1 singles this weekend. He’s 24-5 with two losses to DeMuth and a third to Chakor Rajendra.

Landon Coates, Stevensville Lakeshore senior: The fourth seed at No. 1 singles is 20-1, his only loss coming in August. He also was in the No. 1 bracket last season, but unseeded.

Lower Peninsula Division 4 at Kalamazoo College & Western Michigan University

Top-ranked: 1. Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett, 2. Traverse City St. Francis, 3. Big Rapids

Traverse City St. Francis emerged from years of contention to win its first championship last fall, and should be in the mix for a repeat although 2021 runner-up University Liggett is the favorite to add to its most recent title won in 2020. St. Francis scored 34 points last season to win by seven. Big Rapids is seeking its first top-two Finals finish and should make a nice jump from last year’s tie for seventh.

University Liggett: The Knights will attempt to reclaim the championship on the strength of seeds at every flight, with two top seeds and four second seeds. Junior Sebastian Courtright was last season’s runner-up at No. 1 singles, with senior George Anusbigian runner-up at No. 2 and senior Gerry Sherer runner-up at No. 3; they are the second seeds this weekend at Nos. 1, 3 and 2, respectively. Senior Steve Wheatley and freshman Griffin Marchal are the top seed at No. 1 doubles, and senior Ryan King and freshman Niko Cooksey are top-seeded at No. 2.

Traverse City St. Francis: Four top seeds and plenty of championship experience should have the Gladiators contending deep into Saturday. Junior Tristan Bonanni is the reigning No. 2 singles champion and seeded third at No. 1, while sophomore Owen Jackson is seeded first at No. 2 singles after winning No. 3 last year and junior Chris Bobrowski is top-seeded at No. 3 coming off a runner-up finish at No. 4. Seniors Charlie King and Derek Berta are the top seeds at No. 1 doubles after winning the No. 3 title last fall, and sophomores Eli Schmude and Max King are the top seeds at No. 2.

Big Rapids: The Cardinals are seeded at six flights and also seeking their first Finals flight championship. That may come in doubles, where junior Dylan Walsh and sophomore Mason Sleeper are the second seed at No. 3 and senior Elijah Haynes and sophomore Ari Ziska are the second seed at No. 4.

Simon Caldwell, Grand Rapids West Catholic freshman: West Catholic graduated last season’s No. 1 singles champion and could have the next, as Caldwell enters his first Finals as the top seed at that flight. He’s 26-0 with half those wins by 6-0, 6-0 scores.

Daniel Pero, Brooklyn Columbia Central junior: The fourth seed at No. 1 singles made the semifinals at that flight last season as the fifth seed. He’s 13-0 and has lost five points total and none since mid-August.

PHOTO Traverse City St. Francis’ Tristan Bonanni returns a volley during a No. 2 singles match at the 2021 Lower Peninsula Division 4 Finals. (Click for more from High School Sports Scene.)

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.)