Longtime Okemos Friends Deliver Again

October 20, 2018

By Butch Harmon
Special for Second Half

HOLLAND – What started with a love of the sport in elementary school grew into a second straight MHSAA Finals championship for members of the Okemos boys tennis team Saturday.

Led by a core group of players who began playing tennis together at a young age, Okemos won the Lower Peninsula Division 2 title with six flight championships and 37 total points. Birmingham Groves and Birmingham Seaholm tied for second with 23 points, with Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern placing fourth with 19.

“We’ve known when these kids were 5, 6, 7 years old they were going to be good,” said Okemos coach Chris Silker. “They have stayed together. They have invested in each other and really pushed each other to higher levels every year.”

The No. 1 doubles team of seniors Zal Chinoy and Daniel Gorelik are a prime example of the long-time friendships on the team.

“I’ve known Daniel since I was in the second grade,” Chinoy said. “We started playing tennis together around that time. We built a friendship around playing tennis, and we kept it going for all these years and our chemistry is a main, main part of our game.”

Chemistry proved key as Chinoy and Gorelik wrapped up their careers by turning back Ben Adams and Aidan O’Neill of Birmingham Seaholm 6-1, 6-3.

“Actually Zal is the one that played tennis before me,” Gorelik said. “He was playing since he was 6 years old, and he was the one that brought me into it. He said, ‘Hey, you should try this sport.’ It’s actually surreal we are here right now playing one doubles together.”

At No. 2 doubles, sophomores Druv Talluri and Shrey Patel turned back Jonathan Cross and Owen Cross of Birmingham Seaholm 6-4, 6-1.

“It feels great,” Talluri said. “All the practice and it paid off.”

The duo both won flight titles last year as well. Talluri was part of the victorious No. 3 doubles team in 2017, while Patel won the No. 3 singles title last year.

“We have really good chemistry,” Patel said. “We’ve played together before, and we have a good chemistry together.”

Depth and balance are a major strong point of this year’s Okemos squad.

“We’re deep, we’re deep,” Silker said. “When you have a freshman that can come into the one-singles spot and pushes everyone down, it creates a stronger and deeper lineup.”

That freshman is Ozan Colak, who came into the tournament as the top seed at No. 1 singles. Colak more than lived up to his lofty ranking as he wrapped up the title with a 6-3, 6-1 win against Nathaniel Webster of Mattawan.

“Right now, I just can’t get this smile off my face,” Colak said. “It feels really good. I’ve had a lot of injuries, and to come out here and still play as well as I believe I can is huge for me. It’s a huge confidence boost. It just feels great to be on a team that is so good.”

At No. 2 singles, Okemos sophomore Joshua Portnoy stopped Anish Middha of Midland 6-1, 6-1 in the final. The win was extra special for Portnoy, as he lost in the final last year.

“I’m really excited because last year I fell short in the finals,” Portnoy said. “It just felt great coming back here and winning it. After the loss last year, I wanted to win it so bad, so I just worked really hard to come back this year and win.”

Okemos junior Benjamin Letzer claimed the title at No. 3 singles as he topped Saketh Kamaraju 6-1, 1-0 (retired). Letzer reached the quarterfinals at No. 1 singles last year and No. 2 singles as a freshman, and breaking through this year was special.

“It was a lot of fun getting a state championship,” Letzer said. “We have a lot of great guys on this team, and we are really positive and that helps.”

Winning the team title made the day even more special for Letzer.

“It’s really amazing,” Letzer said. “We have this great team chemistry and we’ve been playing this great tennis for two years. Hopefully we can keep it going.”

Sophomore Rohan Shah capped the sweep of singles flights for Okemos when he turned back Owen Goodrich of Forest Hills Northern 6-0, 6-1 at No. 4.

“It was really cool winning four singles,” Shah said. “We have a special team. We have just amazing players, and it’s truly an honor being on this team. The seniors this year really worked their tails off, and it’s amazing to see them win a second title.”

Birmingham Seaholm finished the tournament with a pair of flight championships. At No. 4 doubles, the team of junior Fred Kassab and sophomore Nolan Werner outlasted Brett Kovan and Ethan Weitzman of Birmingham Groves 6-4, 6-3. The Seaholm duo entered the tournament seeded fourth but defeated top-seed Okemos in the semifinals and third-seeded Groves in the final.

“It’s crazy,” Werner said. “We were the number four seed, so we were not even projected to be here. We took down Okemos and took down Groves, two very good teams, so it worked out pretty good. We were just more aggressive at the net. We were making our serves, cutting more, it was great.”

Confidence was also a big part of Kassab and Werner’s success.

“I didn’t think we could do it at first,” Kassab said, “but we just took one match at a time, one point at a time and we persevered and won. We knew we had it in us.” 

Seaholm pulled another upset at No. 3 doubles, where the second-seeded team of Max Levitsky and Cameron Lee outlasted the top seed from Okemos, Siddharth Nagisetty and Aditya Kandula, 7-6 (2), 6-4.

For Levitsky, a senior, winning capped a career that saw him finish as a runner-up at No. 3 doubles last year and a quarterfinalist at No. 3 singles as a sophomore.

“It’s fun to go out with a win as a senior,” Levitsky said. “I think we won more of the big points, and we played our game really well. This feels pretty good.”

Lee, a junior, reached the quarterfinal round as a singles player last year.

“This feels awesome,” Lee said. “It’s extremely special. I think we just outplayed them. We capitalized on the easy balls, and we weren’t nervous or tentative.”

Click for full results.

PHOTOS: (Top) Okemos freshman Ozan Colak follows through during No. 1 singles action Saturday. (Middle) Birmingham Seaholm’s Nolan Werner and Fred Kassab encourage each other during a No. 4 doubles match. (Click to see more from HighSchoolSportsScene.com.)

West Iron Makes Every Point Count Winning Finals Title by Slimmest of Margins

By Jerry DeRoche
Special for MHSAA.com

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.)