Negaunee Edges Rest at UP D1 Final

May 28, 2014

By Keith Shelton
Special to Second Half

KINGSFORD – It was a true test of depth, mental toughness and endurance Wednesday at the MHSAA Division 1 Upper Peninsula Tennis Finals at Kingsford High School.

The Negaunee Miners proved, by a slim margin, to have just enough of each to reclaim their foothold as U.P. champions. 

Negaunee won with 15 points followed by Menominee’s 12, Kingsford and Marquette with 11, Escanaba two and Gladstone one. The four-team battle that ensued throughout the day made for one of the more enticing Finals events in recent history.

With four flights left finishing, all four teams still had a legitimate shot at the title. Coming down to the final two flights of the tournament, the title was still up for grabs between Negaunee and Menominee.

The Maroons needed to win No. 3 doubles. But they were denied thanks to a thrilling comeback by Anthony Moyle and Rob Loy. After dropping the first set to Aaron Maas and Adam Nolde 6-2, the Negaunee teammates found themselves down 5-0 in the second set before rallying back to win 7-5 and force a third set, which they won 6-4. 

"It's unbelievable. It was an amazing comeback," said Loy after securing the U.P. title for his team.

For Loy the victory was also about validation. The junior didn't play last season and had some decision making to do before he came back this year. 

"I'm really happy he decided to come back. We won, and it's definitely a good feeling," said Loy's teammate, Moyle. 

The pressure of it all coming down to their match in addition to needing to rally back from a 5-0 hole did wear on the teammates, they acknowledged. 

"It was nerve-wracking at first. You kind of lost your head. It's tough coming back from being down 5-0," Loy said. 

Agreed Moyle, "It's pretty hard. Tennis is probably one of the biggest mind games compared to other sports you play. There's ups and downs everywhere. I'm glad we came out on top."

Negaunee’s Ben Luke at No. 4 singles was still in the midst of his match with Marquette's Justin Flood when the celebration ensued. Soon after Loy and Moyle's victory, Luke got his as well, winning 7-6 (6), 6-2.

Though the pressure was off, he said he kept his composure.  

"I was just excited to see that we won, but I was focused on finishing my own match and getting it done," he said. 

For Luke, it was a long day, after he went through two three-setters, including over top-seeded Alek Shanks of Kingsford.

Miners coach Kyle Saari praised his team for its mental toughness, which he said keyed its fourth Division 1 title in five years.  

"We had kids come through in tough situations mentally," he said. "Ben Luke beat two kids he hadn't beat all year today, and we had that happen in a few flights. We talk about peaking at the end of the year, and that's what we were able to do, so I'm proud of them." 

Defending champion Kingsford didn't go down quietly. The Flivvers started the final round hot, taking No. 1 singles and doubles and looking like they were in business for more. 

Adam Szabo at No. 1 singles had perhaps the most dominant performance of the day, defeating Marquette's Josh Downs in that final 6-0, 6-1, displaying a razor quick release and a smooth and swift motion. Downs marked Szabo's only defeat during the season, but Wednesday there was no doubt who would finish on top. 

The top two tennis players in the Upper Peninsula in Division 1 are both juniors, so the rivalry will no doubt continue into 2015. 

"I played with a chip on my shoulder, just really confident. You have to go in that way," Szabo said. 

The Flivvers also scored a nice win at No. 3 singles where Chris Roell defeated his season-long nemesis Noah Gannon of Marquette 6-3, 3-6, 6-4. 

The rivals played three three-set matches this season, all very close. At the Great Northern Conference Tournament earlier this month, it was Gannon who came out on top 6-7, 7-6, 6-3. 

"There were some close matches with Noah this year. I knew I could play with him, I knew I could beat him, and I came through," Roell said. "He's the best in the U.P., and he fought right to the end. I credit him. He had a great season. I just got the better of him today."

The Maroons put all four of their doubles flights in the finals, but their lone victory came at No. 4 where juniors Nick Cattani and Colin Merat won a contested match against Kingsford seniors Peter Fornetti and Kevin LeClaire 6-2, 5-7, 6-3.

"We just fell short in a couple tiebreakers, and Negaunee played great tennis today," Maroons coach Troy Reuter said. "We had some high goals coming into the year, and the kids worked hard over the summer and winter. They gave it everything they had. 

"It's a little disappointing not to take the title, but to be right there, I'm proud of the kids. I can't complain."

PHOTOS: (Top) Negaunee’s Stephen Trawick and Alex Roth continue a volley during their semifinal match at No. 2 doubles Wednesday. (Middle) Kingsford’s Adam Szabo returns a shot en route to winning No. 1 singles. (Photos by Ron Deuter.)

Speedy & Skilled, Krueger Again Boosting Niles' Cross Country, Tennis Teams

By Scott Hassinger
Special for

October 3, 2023

NILES – On any autumn weekday afternoon, Aiden Krueger can be found using his legs to carry him across the campus of Niles High School.

Southwest CorridorAfter cross country practice, the Vikings' senior literally runs over to the tennis courts to work out with the boys tennis team.

The fall dual-sport athlete has managed to make a significant impact on both programs during his career at Niles.

In cross country, Krueger is a two-time Lower Peninsula Division 2 Finals qualifier and recently broke a long-standing school record in the 5,000-meter (3.1 mile) race.

In Saturday's Berrien County Meet held at Lake Township Park in Bridgman, Krueger's first-place time of 15:55.5 broke Jeff Ort's 33-year record of 16:05 set in 1992.

Breaking the school record was one of two main goals that Krueger, the Vikings' No. 1 runner, and his head coach Tony Todd and assistant coach Jason Todd set prior to the start of the 2023 season.

"It felt great to take down a school record that's been there for so long. On the day of the Berrien County Meet, my coaches and I talked about how I felt that day. They could tell I was feeling really good, so we went for it," Krueger said. "I felt great the entire race, and my body responded very well. My coaches were at the one and two-mile mark to let me know where I was at. I was able to squeeze out a record time, and the feeling of being able to share that moment with my family, coaches and teammates was unmatched. It's a day that I'll cherish for a very long time."

While Krueger always has shown a natural ability for running, he soon realized he needed to increase his offseason training in order to reach his career goals.

"Aiden is naturally gifted. He broke the eighth-grade two-mile record in cross country, so we knew he was going to be a special runner. What we didn't know at that time was how strong of a runner he was in terms of his mental preparedness. He was a quick study coming into the program as a freshman, but natural ability will only take you so far. There is a lot more that goes into becoming an elite distance runner," Tony Todd said.

Despite running very little over the summer prior to the start of his freshman season, Krueger still managed to post some respectable times in the 17:20s, but he narrowly missed qualifying for the Finals.

Following a couple of years of running track & field for Niles, and with running higher mileage the last three summers, Krueger feels he has prepared himself well enough to attain his ultimate goal of earning all-state (Top 30) at this year's Finals on Saturday, Nov. 4, at Michigan International Speedway.

"Aiden isn't afraid of hard work. He ran 55 miles per week this summer, and up to this point we haven't backed him off from that number very much," said Niles' head coach. "We've been concentrating on consistency, and once the state meet is about a month away we'll start him on more speedwork."

Krueger, a three-time all-Wolverine Conference and all-Regional runner as well, has the opportunity to graduate as one of Niles' most decorated athletes ever with 14 varsity letters.

Well-respected by his teammates, Krueger was selected as one of the Vikings' team captains this fall.

"Aiden is a very positive person and is always encouraging his teammates," said Niles' head coach.

Entering Tuesday's Wolverine Conference tri-meet in Sturgis with the host Trojans and Otsego, Krueger hadn't lost a league race yet and finished first individually in five of Niles' first eight meets. He ran 16:40 or better in five of those meets as well.

As the season progresses and Krueger prepares for this weekend's prestigious Portage Invitational, he knows what he has to do to reach those goals.

"Right now it's real important for me to get out fast and get into a good position so I can figure out when exactly I need to sit back and when I need to move up," Krueger said.

"As we reach the bigger meets like conference and Regionals, there are a lot of good runners. My coaches help me familiarize myself with who is at those races and who I need to go out and run with. I thank God who gave me the ability to run, along with the support of my coaches and family."

Krueger plans to end his competitive running career once he has finished high school. His parents, Robert and Korrie Krueger, own Milano's Pizza in Niles, and his future plans are to help out with the family business or attend trade school.

Krueger didn't play tennis as a freshman, but made an immediate impact as a doubles player the last two years on the varsity. Since cross country is Krueger's priority sport, Niles head boys tennis coach Jill Weber felt it would be more beneficial for the team if he played singles this fall.

Krueger follows through on a forehand shot during a Wolverine Conference match earlier this season."Aiden was real receptive to the change. As coaches, we just thought it would be easier to replace him in singles rather than have a doubles partner be forced to play with someone they weren't familiar with," said Weber, who has coached the Niles boys team the last 18 seasons and the girls squad for 20 years.

Krueger was sporting a record of 13-2 and was undefeated in the Wolverine at No. 2 singles at the end of last week. His only losses came in nonleague matches to Coldwater and Kalamazoo Christian.

"Aiden has an extraordinary work ethic. He works really hard, but at the same time he enjoys it and has fun. He usually only needs two or three games to figure out what he needs to do to win a match," Weber said. "I have so much confidence in him to get the job done."

Weber is amazed at how Krueger juggles his time off the court with school and cross country.

She used Saturday, Sept. 9, as an example of his commitment to both sports.

Krueger started that day competing with the cross country team at the Kalamazoo Loy-Norrix Mini-Meet, a race he won in a then personal-best time of 16:31.4. He then jumped in the car with his parents, who drove him to Mattawan where the Vikings' tennis team was competing in a tournament.

"Mattawan was gracious enough to put Aiden on one of the later courts so he could play all three of his matches once he was finished with his cross country meet," Weber explained.

Krueger won all three of his tennis matches.

"That was a pretty exciting day for Aiden. He just takes it all in stride and isn't a showboat on the court. When he's on the court he has a way of making friends with his opponents and makes good calls and shows good sportsmanship. A lot of people have nothing but good things to say about him," Weber said.

"As far as his ability on the court, Aiden is a very tricky player to figure out and has a lot of weapons. He has a good dropshot, can lob the ball, hit an angle shot or hit an approach shot and draw you out of position."

Krueger is well-respected by his tennis teammates as well.

"Everyone loves Aiden. He likes to joke around, but he truly enjoys every one of his teammates and respects them all equally. He's a good student and had the team over to his house for a team dinner recently," Weber said.

Knowing how important Krueger's senior season of running was to him, Weber spoke with Tony Todd before the year began about his role with the tennis and cross country teams.

"I understood how important running is to Aiden this year. The last thing I want to do is stress a kid out. He's done a nice job for us in tennis, but we're not expecting a great deal out of him. I want him to be able to concentrate on his cross country goals," Weber said.

Krueger's older brother Andrew Krueger played tennis for Niles a few years ago, and that sparked Aiden's interest in the game.

"I participated in some summer tennis camps back when I was in seventh grade. I liked my experience playing doubles the last couple years, but singles is a challenge because you have only yourself to rely on and the court is smaller," Krueger said.

Krueger describes himself as confident on the court, and he considers himself more of baseline player.

"I'm really comfortable on the baseline, and my tennis goals are to just try and finish the year with the best record I can in the conference and help my team do as well as we possibly can," Krueger said.

Scott HassingerScott Hassinger is a contributing sportswriter for Leader Publications and previously served as the sports editor for the Three Rivers Commercial-News from 1994-2022. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Berrien, Cass, St. Joseph and Branch counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Niles’ Aiden Krueger crosses the finish line after winning his race during a home meet this season against Edwardsburg. (Middle) Krueger follows through on a forehand shot during a Wolverine Conference match earlier this season. (Top photo by Scott Novak/Leader Publications. Middle photo by Kelly Sweeney/Leader Publications.)