Greenhills Holds On for 8th Straight Title

By Pam Shebest
Special for

October 17, 2015

KALAMAZOO — Ann Arbor Greenhills came together as a team to win its eighth consecutive Lower Peninsula Division 4 championship, but later Saturday afternoon they were a team divided.

After earning 36 points for their ninth title in the last 10 years, the Gryphons planned their traditional celebration at Buffalo Wild Wings with one exception. 

“They were hoping to finish in time to watch the Michigan-Michigan State football game,” coach Eric Gajar said. (They did).

“Most of the guys from Ann Arbor are obviously big Michigan fans. A couple of us, including myself, are Michigan State fans, so it’s a little bit of a house divided. But it’s fun to be together to watch it. These guys love being together.” 

Greenhills won five flight titles with one more possible at No. 4 doubles. West Bloomfield Frankel Jewish Academy could not play until after sundown Saturday, so the quarterfinal match against Traverse City St. Francis was played Saturday evening. Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett will play the winner in the semifinal and Greenhills has already advanced to the championship match. Both will be played on Sunday.

On Saturday, University Liggett finished second with 28 points and St. Francis third with 19. 

“We’re narrowing the gap (on Greenhills),” Liggett coach Mark Sobieralski said. “We’re really young. We have five sophomores and two freshmen and we’ve only got two seniors.

“My No. 3 player (Spencer Warezak) from last year didn’t even play this year. He’s been hurt the whole season. We should get him back, so it’s only like losing one player.”

Gajar said he has warned his players that Liggett is closing in. 

“I’ve been telling the guys all year long that objects in the rearview mirror are closer than they appear,” he said. “Last year they were second, this year they’re second. 

“I have great respect for the program and the coach has done a great job with these guys. I told the Liggett coach that I think they’re the team to beat next year. Traverse City is right there, too, and doesn’t graduate a lot of guys (four). There’s a couple coming for us.” 

Greenhills had winners at three singles flights, but it was the No. 1 doubles team that clinched the team title.

Senior Brandon Johnson and sophomore Jack Harris, the second seeds, defeated Grand Rapids NorthPointe Christian fifth seeds Matt Kintz and Jarrett Berends, both seniors, 6-4, 6-3.

“We didn’t know we won while we were on the court, but once we were off the court, my coach told me,” Johnson said. “I think it would have helped knowing. I play better under pressure.

“It’s just the perfect way to end my career here at Greenhills. I couldn’t ask for a better partner and a better season.”

Harris, who was on the junior varsity team last year, said the two are good friends and “we make each other better. We have good chemistry.” 

The No. 1 singles match featured a 3-hour, 15-minute marathon with Otsego senior Luke Ford, the top seed, defeating No. 2 Oliver Weaver, from Williamston, 6-7(3), 6-4, 6-3.

The two met last year in the No. 1 quarterfinals with Ford winning 6-1, 6-1. 

On Saturday, Weaver was down 4-1 before battling back to win the first set. In the second, Ford was up 5-1 and Weaver fought back to 5-4 before Ford closed out the set.

“Nobody gives up out here,” Ford said. “I thought, I’m not going to win state if I don’t win this (second) set so I have to pull it out somehow. To win (the title) is unbelievable.” 

In the third set with Ford leading 5-3, Weaver dropped to the court, writhing in pain with a leg cramp. Ford grabbed a bottle of water and took it over to him while they waited for the trainer. After treatment, Weaver got back up and finished the match.

“I just tried my hardest,” he said. “This was my last match of the year and I wanted it really bad. I always fight hard for everything.” 

Being down in the first set, “I just kept playing,” Weaver said. “I didn’t really get mad at myself. I definitely had more pressure on myself to perform better than last year.”

Otsego coach Chuck Parker said Ford has been working on his game since he was a child. 

“Every year he got better,” Parker said. “He learned from his loss last year in the semifinals. He’s survived some really tough matches. His only loss this year was to (Portage Central’s) Bill Duo (who won the LPD2 title at No. 1 singles on Saturday).”

At No. 2 singles, Greenhills junior Sam Talsma defeated Liggett sophomore Christian Ilitch, 6-4, 6-3. 

Talsma worked his way up from No. 1 doubles last year.

“I worked hard over the summer and found myself at 2 singles,” he said. “(Ilitch) and I played twice before and I won both.

“It helped my confidence going in but even if I had lost them, I would have still gone into the match with the same amount of gusto and enthusiasm.” 

The two played on one of the front three courts at Kalamazoo College’s Stowe Stadium.

“Since I was on (one of the front courts) I was a little nervous, but he’s a good player,” Ilitch said. “He’s got a good serve.”

Gage Feldeisen, the top seed at No. 3, defeated second-seeded St. Francis junior Tyler Spigarelli, 6-1, 6-3, in the championship match. 

Gajar said losing Feldeisen to graduation this year is going to leave “big shoes to fill.”

“He’s actually never lost a D-4 match in his career,” Gajar said. “He was captain this year and last year.” 

Feldeisen defeated Spigarelli earlier this season, but, “You know they want to beat you the second time, so you have to make sure that you cannot only beat them the first time but also the second time,” Feldeisen said.

“It’s more pressure, not like I beat him once so it’s going to be easy. In reality, it’s not easy ever.” 

Spigarelli, who lost in the second round at No. 3 doubles last year, said: “I was very surprised this year that I got this high at 3 singles to be a two seed. This year I’m definitely happy with the way I’ve played and the way I’ve improved.”

At No. 4 singles, junior Andy Xie, the top seed from Greenhills, defeated third seed Andrew Staricco, a sophomore from Liggett, 6-2, 6-2. 

“I’ve been playing really well this weekend,” Xie said. “He was a really nice player. It could have gone either way, in my opinion.

“I’ve played him twice in the regular season (and won both). It definitely does help mentally. Half the game is a mental game.” 

As for the consecutive team titles, Xie said:  “It’s something we think about. It’s always in the back of our minds, but we just want to let loose and have fun. Winning’s just a bonus.”

Staricco upset second seed Victor Casler, of St. Francis, 6-3, 4-6, 6-3, in the semifinals and credits learning to hit with topspin as the reason. 

“In the first match of the year, I didn’t have any topspin,” he said. “I learned over the year. I lost to St. Francis in the first match (of the year) and now with topspin it was easier to win.”

Greenhills won the No. 2 doubles title, with top seeds senior Connor Todd and junior Mitchell Gajar pulling out a tough three-setter over Liggett’s second seeds Will Gersch, a senior, and Dave Sekhon, a junior, 6-7(4), 6-2, 6-3. 

At No. 3, Liggett’s top seeds sophomore Casey Scoggin and freshman Alec Azar defeated Greenhills second seeds, junior Matt Chatas and freshman Trey Feldeisen, 6-3, 6-1.

Editor's note: Amar Nigam and Kris Gulvezan of Greenhills defeated Liggett's Kester Stefani and Craig Buhler in the No. 4 doubles final in three sets. Greenhills finished with 37 points total, while Liggett scored 29 and third-place Traverse City St. Francis had 21. 

Click for full results. 

PHOTOS: (Top) Greenhills’ Brandon Johnson waits for a return as partner Jack Harris follows through on his serve during their No. 1 doubles match. (Middle) Otsego’s Luke Ford returns a shot on his way to winning No. 1 singles. (Below) Greenhills’ Sam Talsma smashes a shot during his No. 2 singles championship match. (Click for 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.)