Negaunee, Olivier Cap 4-Year Title Runs

May 30, 2019

By Adam Niemi
Special for Second Half

KINGSFORD - Negaunee won its fourth straight MHSAA Upper Peninsula Division 1 Finals trophy Wednesday, but Marquette's Alec Olivier also left quite a legacy.

Olivier finished his high school tennis career with an unblemished 63-0 record and capped it with his fourth UP title at No. 1 singles.

While going undefeated through high school wasn't a goal when Olivier started out as a freshman, he said, the quest to maintain a perfect record brought more pressure as he played over the seasons.

"I'm happy it's over. Very stressful trying to go undefeated my whole career," Olivier said. "Really glad I was able to stay undefeated. I think my first year I was the only person to make it in the finals. Now we've got five people in the finals. Really looking forward to what comes of Marquette tennis."

Negaunee took the team win with 21 points. The Miners won all but two flights. Olivier and teammate Benjamin Sternschuss were the only ones to thwart the Miners in the finals.

Kingsford's Tyler Beauchamp and Reece Fortner nearly thwarted Negaunee at No. 1 doubles.

Down by two points in the second set, the Miners duo of Jakson Sager and Drew Lindberg rallied back to win 6-2, 7-5. The comeback underscored Negaunee's ability to overcome adversity to win its fourth consecutive UP title and eighth of the last 10.

"It's a belief. I think the biggest time that's evident is when you end up in a pressure situation," Negaunee head coach Kyle Saari said of the team's resilience. "If it's 5-4 or if you end up getting into a third set, you see people do it before or if you've done it before yourself, you don't feel the pressure – you can apply the pressure."

Saari said the team's winning culture has centered on a team-first approach – a win in any flight is embraced by each player in every flight.

"We understand that most seasons we come in there's a pretty sizable target on our back," Saari said. "These kids, they kind of embrace that challenge and understand the tradition they've built to pass the game on to the next group that comes in. Back from the first day of practice, this is always one of the goals that we set. They work hard day in and day out and support each other. They definitely do it as a team sport. That's always the unique side of it is they embrace each other’s success, and that's what's most neat to be a part of."

Kingsford head coach Sarah Massie said she anticipated a strong bout at No. 1 doubles.

"Coming in we were the underdog because we had lost to them two times earlier this season," she said. "Winning (the Great Northern Conference tournament) last week, I was hoping we could pull it off. Negaunee has such a solid one doubles team, I knew it was going to be tough no matter which way it went. Last time we played them it went to three sets. We were right there with them."

Asked what's different about his tennis game in his senior year compared to his freshman year, Olivier ran his fingers through his beard.

"I've got a lot longer beard," he said with a smile. "I'm definitely a lot more mature. I've got a much better understanding of tennis. Playing a lot of matches you get a good understanding of how the game works and how your points play."

Marquette head coach Charlie Drury said Olivier's performance Wednesday typified his career. He ended with a straight-set win over Negaunee’s No. 1.

"Playing at No. 1 you're always facing the best players," Drury said. "To be able to do it for four years is just a remarkable feat. I don't think anyone has done that, at least not in the last 50 years that I'm aware. Alec's been solid. He's had a lot of pressure to keep that record going. He's done just a tremendous job and (I) couldn't be more proud of him."

Drury said he also liked his team's heady performance against Negaunee's depth.

"Couldn't be more pleased with the guys," Drury said. "I felt as though we were gaining ground going into this tournament. I really think that our guys learned something today to compete with a good team like Negaunee. You've gotta work hard, and today they really did. Negaunee edged us out, but they deserve the win."

Click for full finals flight results.

PHOTOS: (Top) A Negaunee player returns a volley during Wednesday’s Upper Peninsula Division 1 Finals. (Middle) Marquette’s Alec Olivier gets set to send back a shot during his run to the No. 1 singles championship. (Photos by Adam Niemi.)

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.)