Negaunee Adds to Decade of Dominance

By John Vrancic
Special for

June 1, 2017

NEGAUNEE — Welcome to late spring in the Upper Peninsula.

With a stiff northwest breeze whipping across the Negaunee Tennis Facility coupled with off and on drizzle and temperatures in the mid to upper 40s, conditions were far less than perfect for Wednesday’s Upper Peninsula Division 1 Boys Tennis Finals.

The Negaunee Miners didn’t seem to mind, however, as they retained their title with 21 points.

“I think the wind helped me a little,” said Negaunee junior Thomas Sertich, who outlasted Kingsford’s Nick McCole 6-0, 2-6, 6-2 for the No. 3 singles crown. “I feel comfortable playing in any conditions. I talked to our coach (Kyle Saari) after the second set, and it helped me a lot. He told me to regroup and hit the reset button.

“My experience helped. I knew what I had to do. I felt I had to do what I was doing in the first set. It feels wonderful to win again as a team. This is what we work for all year.”

Runner-up Kingsford scored 12 points, followed by Marquette with 10.

The Miners sent seven to the championship round and won six flights. The title was the program's fifth this decade.

“I think the best part is all eight flights contributed to our point total,” said Saari. “The kids bought into the idea they wanted to play their best tennis on the last day of the year, and they did that. Getting to the finals is always part of the goal. To win six flights is a rewarding feeling. Each group wants its own accomplishment.”

Teammate Luke Skewis topped Menominee’s Jake Anglehart 6-3, 6-2 for the No. 2 singles championship and freshman Chas Kumpula added a title at No. 4. Kumpula finished 20-1 this season.

Negaunee’s Jacob Talaga and Darius Provost finished 21-0 in No. 3 doubles with a 7-5, 6-3 triumph over Esky juniors Alex Valentine-Soren Thompson.

“It was fun,” said Valentine. “I got a lot of experience for next year. It was pretty hard to hit into the wind, and the court was a little slippery.

“I’ve learned that you have to push yourself to the net and put shots away at the net. It’s good to get used to playing in these conditions.”

In No. 2 doubles, Negaunee’s Jackson Sager and Drew Lindberg dispatched Marquette’s Adam Skendzel and Mitch Connon, and Evan Hassel and Jake Larson rallied past Kingsford’s Reece Fortner and Ethan Fox 5-7, 6-4, 6-3 at No. 4.

Kingsford sophomores Daunte Fortner and Tyler Beauchamp beat Escanaba seniors Paul Carne and Nick Dufour 6-1, 6-2 in No. 1 doubles.
Beauchamp, making effective use of overhand shots, helped the Kingsford duo build a quick 3-0 lead in the first set.

“That helped us relax,” he said. “It looked like they were trying to slow us down. We just tried to relax and hit our shots.”

The eventual champions also appeared to have an answer whenever the Eskymos duo tried to charge the net.

“We would lob the ball over their head,” said Fortner. “We tried to hit the angles and make them run a little. Returning the ball to the opposite side enabled us to get back into a pace we were more comfortable with.”

Marquette sophomore Alec Olivier completed his second straight perfect season with a 6-2, 6-0 triumph over Negaunee senior Eric Hurst at No. 1 singles.

“Everything went pretty good,” said Olivier. “I started out pretty good. Eric kept battling. He played well. I had to earn my points. The wind made it a little tricky. But if you prepared for it, it was no big deal.

“I put a lot of time in during the offseason, which really helps. That way, once you get into the season, you’re ready to go. I just have to keep hitting balls and fine-tune everything.”

Hurst reached the finals by eliminating Menominee’s Jon Antilla 6-4, 2-6, 6-3.

“I played a long, tough match with Jon,” he said. “I’m happy with how everything turned out. Alec is very consistent and accurate with his shots. He’s a smart player who knows when to hit his shots.

“I’m real happy we won as a team. We played really well today.”

Marquette coach Charlie Drury also was happy with how the Redmen performed. 

“This was our best showing all year,” he said. “We had a great group to work with. This has been a tough year. The weather has made it tough all year. It was hard to get any continuity, especially in doubles.”

Click for full results.

PHOTOS: (Top) Menominee’s Jon Antilla stretches for a shot at No. 1 singles Wednesday. (Middle) Negaunee’s Eric Hurst finished runner-up at No. 1 singles to undefeated Alec Olivier of Marquette. (Photos by Rachel Oakley.)

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.)