Finals Preview: Pushing the Powers

By Geoff Kimmerly senior editor

October 18, 2012

Midland Dow has won three straight MHSAA tennis championships. Ann Arbor Greenhills has won four. And Detroit Country Day has finished among the top two in each of the last four seasons.

To find them as favorites again at this weekend's Lower Peninsula Finals is no surprise. But there could be a few.

Novi has never won an MHSAA team tennis title, but is ranked No. 1 in Division 1. And St. Joseph, Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett and Portage Central are all looking to get back into the championship mix.

Click for links to Finals qualifiers in all four divisions. See below for some of what to expect at every tournament this weekend, and come back Saturday evening and Sunday for coverage from all four Finals. 

Division 1 at Midland Community Tennis Center

Neither the top-ranked team going in nor the team with the reigning individual champion have won an MHSAA team title – which could mean an interesting shake-up at the top.

Novi: With every flight at least a number five seed, and five flights seeded No. 1, Novi is both considered the favorite and set up for contention. The Wildcats won a Regional featuring No. 4 Northville and 2010 champion Detroit Catholic Central.

Birmingham Brother Rice: The Warriors finished second by four points last season and last won in 2009, but come in with seeds at every flight but one and three of those top seeds. The only player not seeded for Brother Rice is No. 1 singles player Gunnar Peery, but he’s the reigning MHSAA champion at No. 2. Reigning No. 3 doubles champs Joey Hildebrand and George Hamaty also are back this weekend, but split up – Hamaty is at No. 2 with a new partner.

Ann Arbor Huron: The River Rats are always in the Division 1 conversation, with two titles and a runner-up finish over the last four seasons. They are the reigning champions and seeded in every flight – with five No. 2 seeds and none lower than No. 4.

Individuals of note: Northville’s Tyler Gardiner is the reigning No. 1 singles champion and seeded No. 1 in that flight. But Utica Eisenhower’s Ed Covalschi also is nationally recognized, and comes in as the second seed.

Division 2 at Holly/Fenton

This division has belonged to Midland Dow the last three seasons, and the Chargers are ranked No. 1 again after faring well this season against many of the top teams regardless of division.

Midland Dow: The reigning champions graduated the winningest player in MHSAA history in Jonathan Gurnee, but have seven top seeds including returning champions Austin Woody (No. 2 singles now, won at No. 3) and Juli Guerra (3 now, won at 4). Reigning No. 2 doubles champs Jason Chang and David Goslin also are back, with Chang playing No. 1 this weekend.

Portage Central: The Mustangs are seeking their first MHSAA championship since splitting the title in spring 2007, the last season before boys tennis moved to fall. They’re paced at the top by top-seeded No. 1 singles player Billy Heckman. He’s one of seven seeded flights, with three coming in as No. 2 seeds.

Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central: The Rangers finished runners-up last season and come in ranked No. 3. They’re seeded at all but No. 4 doubles – but that pair includes Joey McClure, who teamed with Greg Andrews to win the No. 3 doubles championship in 2011. Andrews is playing No. 1 doubles this weekend.

Individuals of note: Kalamazoo Loy Norrix’s Davis Crocker is the reigning champion and seeded second after falling to Portage Central’s Heckman at the Regional. Okemos’ Elan Dantus was part of the No. 1 doubles champion last season and is playing No. 1 singles. Reigning No. 4 doubles champions Andrew Murtland and Rob Chapekis of North Farmington are playing No. 1 doubles this weekend.

Division 3 at Holland Christian

Detroit Country Day has finished among the top two in this division nine of the last 10 seasons and is ranked No. 1 again heading into these Finals.

Detroit Country Day: The Yellow Jackets earned the top seed at every flight for this weekend. Rishi Patel will attempt to repeat as the champion at No. 3 singles, and four doubles players who were part of three championship pairs are back as well but with different partners. Sven Kranz was the No. 1 singles runner-up last season, and is playing No. 2 this weekend with teammate Max Fliegner – considered one of the top players his age in the nation – seeded first at No. 1.

St. Joseph: The reigning runner-up is lined up for another run with seven No. 2 seeds and a No. 3. Both members of the reigning No. 4 doubles champion, Sam Singler and Jared Kuntz, are back but at higher flights. St. Joseph last won the team title in fall 2007.

East Grand Rapids: The Pioneers are ranked No. 3 and seeking their first top-two finish since winning the 2007 spring championship and then finishing runner-up that fall. Garrett Goldman won the No. 2 singles title last season and is seeded third at No. 1. East Grand Rapids is seeded in all but one flight.

Division 4 at Kalamazoo College

Ann Arbor Greenhills is in the midst of a dynasty with four straight titles and five over the last six seasons. That only non-championship season, fall 2007, Greenhills finished second. Seven of the top 10 ranked teams have never won an MHSAA title.

Ann Arbor Greenhills: The Gryphons have six No. 1 seeds this weekend – three for singles and three for doubles. Reigning doubles champions Adhi Rajaprabhakaran (No. 3) and Nick Sandhu (No. 4) are paired up this fall and the top seed at No. 2.

Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett: The Knights are ranked No. 2 and going for their first top-two finish since sharing the championship in 2002. They are seeded at four flights, with three of those coming in doubles.

Ludington: The Orioles have broken in among the contenders with some impressive finishes this season including wins over University Liggett and No. 6 Almont. Ludington is ranked No. 3 and has seeded players at Nos. 2-4 singles.

Individuals of note: Players from the Capital Area Activities Conference White have claimed the last two No. 1 singles championships, and hold the top three seeds this weekend: Williamston’s Michael Sienko is the first seed, followed by Portland’s Chance Conley and Lansing Catholic’s Matt Heeder with the third. Conley beat Sienko 6-4, 6-2 in last season’s championship match. Sienko won the No. 2 singles title as a freshman in 2009.

PHOTO: Ortonville-Brandon's Spencer Navarre, playing a match earlier this season, will lead his team into the Division 2 Final at Holly and Fenton. (Click to see more from

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.)