Greenhills Extends Title Streak to 7

October 18, 2014

By Butch Harmon
Special to Second Half 

HOLLAND – The Ann Arbor Greenhills boys tennis team made it seven MHSAA Finals titles in a row Saturday at Hope College when it captured the Lower Peninsula Division 4 state championship

And for Greenhills coach Eric Gajar, title number seven was just as exciting as the previous six.

“It’s a different group of guys and a different feeling every year,” Gajar said. “We’ve had a lot of pressure on us all year, and we take everybody’s best shot. We may have taken some of the drama out of it by clinching the title on Friday, but it was still exciting to win the state title.

“This never gets old. It’s always fun to win it.”

Greenhills clinched Friday as it saw all four of its doubles pairs qualify for Saturday’s play and three singles flights earn trips to the semifinals. The Gryphons then captured three doubles championships along with a pair of singles titles to finish with 33 points. Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett placed second with 22, while Traverse City St. Francis rounded out the top three with 21 points.

“Some of the guys struggled earlier this season, but they kept working and persevered,” Gajar said. “It just took a while for everything to sort itself out.”

Setting the table for Greenhills was its doubles teams.

At No. 1 doubles, junior Brandon Johnson and sophomore Sam Talsma captured a title with a 6-2, 6-1 win against David Niewoonder and Dean VanElderen of Kalamazoo Christian. Johnson and Talsma were on winning doubles teams last season as Talsma also played No. 1 and Johnson was at No. 4.

“It’s the same feeling you have of winning but at a different level,” Johnson said. “It feels real good to win it at one doubles this year.”

Repeating at No. 1 was particularly special for the senior Talsma.

“It’s pretty nice to go out with another title,” Talsma said. “I had a new partner this year in Brandon. It was a nice season getting to know him, and winning the state title again feels great.”

A pair of sophomores hooked up for Greenhills to win No. 2 doubles. Andy Xie and Isak Akervall captured a 6-1, 6-0 victory against Alex Dow and Dave Sekhon of University Liggett.

“We’re real happy with the outcome,” Akervall said. “We had a pretty tough match in the semifinals yesterday. We had some nerves early, but then we settled down.”

The squad also felt some nerves en route to keeping the team title streak alive.

“You don’t want to be the team that breaks the streak,” Xie said. “The streak is like the elephant in the room.”    

Rounding out the doubles titles for Greenhills was the No. 4 team of freshman Zach Wu and senior David Groden, who faced a familiar foe in the final. Wu and Groden had split a pair of matches with Jackson Richmond and Ryan Navin of Traverse City St. Francis earlier this season.

Wu and Groden won the season series and the flight as they claimed a 6-3, 6-1 victory this time.

“Our whole season we have been working to this point,” Wu said. “We were really focused today and playing the way we were supposed to.”

The lone doubles title not won by the Gryphons featured a thrilling match at No. 3 that went three sets and featured the surprise squad of the tournament.

Grand Rapids Catholic Central’s No. 3 pair of junior Josh Sullivan and sophomore John Jakubowski came into the tournament seeded fifth. On Friday, Sullivan and Jakubowski defeated the No. 1 seed from University Liggett in the semifinal. They followed that up Saturday with a gritty 6-3, 4-6, 6-4 win against Matt Chatas and Nick Wu of Greenhills, who entered the tournament seeded second.

“Tennis is such an up-and-down sport,” Jakubowski said. “There are so many highs and lows, I’m just so glad we ended it on a high.”

“We were just hoping to play our best and maybe make it to the semifinals,” Sullivan added. “This is just a great feeling. This is crazy.” 

In singles action, the feature match came at No. 1, where a pair of seniors met in a rematch of last year’s title match.

Lansing Catholic’s Matt Heeder defeated Grand Rapids West Catholic’s Nick Solarewicz in last year’s No. 1 singles final. This year the two seniors again put on a dazzling display of tennis with Solarewicz coming out with a 6-4, 6-3 win.

“It was the same exact final as last year,” Solarewicz said. “We are both seniors, and it both meant a lot to us. The first set I started slow and I had some nerves, but then they wore off and I played my game and played my best.”

The title was the first for Solarewicz, who reached the semifinals as a sophomore and the final as a junior.

“To do it in my senior year is special,” Solarewicz said. “I know Matt real well. We played together in juniors, and it was a real great match.”

At No. 2 singles Kalamazoo Hackett sophomore Henry Hedeman made it two MHSAA titles in two years. Hedeman, who won at No. 3 singles last season, captured the No. 2 title this time with a 6-2, 6-1 win against Sam Holmes of Traverse City St. Francis.

“The competition was definitely stiffer at No. 2 singles,” Hedeman said. “I felt I played great the whole tournament.”

The win put Hedeman halfway to his goal of four state titles.

“That has been my main goal since last year,” Hedeman said. “After I won it last year I made it a goal to win it all four years."

Ann Arbor Greenhills made its presence felt in singles action by winning at Nos. 3 and 4.

At No. 3 singles, junior Gage Feldeisen turned back Ian Worthington of Grand Rapids Catholic Central 6-2, 6-1. As a captain this year, the win was special for Feldeisen.

“There was a little extra pressure,” Feldeisen said. “As a captain you have to perform and show what it means to be a Greenhills tennis player. Being a Greenhills tennis player means playing your best and being respectful.”

At No. 4 singles, Greenhills freshman Sonaal Verma showed why he is ready to carry on the Greenhills winning tradition as he defeated Noah Katt of Kalamazoo Hackett 6-2, 6-0.

“It’s pretty special to come in as a freshman and win state,” Verma said. 

With number seven in the books, the question for the Gryphons is: Can they make it eight straight next year?

“We will have 10 of our 14 starters back next year and also our two alternates,” Gajar said. “We also have some players coming up from a strong junior varsity team. I know that University Liggett has a lot of players coming back next year also, so it should be fun.”  

Click for full results. 

PHOTOS: (Top) Ann Arbor Greenhills coach Eric Gajar (left), congratulates his No. 3 doubles pair of Andy Xie (center) and Isak Akervall (right) at Hope College. (Middle) Grand Rapids West Catholic's Nick Solarewicz returns a shot during his No. 1 singles match. (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.)