No Just-Miss This Time: Groves Breaks Through with 1st Finals Win

By Greg Chrapek
Special for Second Half

October 16, 2021

HOLLAND – This year’s Lower Peninsula Division 2 Boys Tennis Finals had a new look.

Along with the return to their traditional format after last year’s COVID-driven changes, the tournament featured a new champion, several new competing schools and some brand new names to the Division 2 tennis scene.

Birmingham Groves, a five-time Finals runner-up, broke through and claimed the first boys tennis team title in school history. Groves finished the two-day tournament Saturday with 27 points to edge a familiar name, two-time reigning Division 2 champion Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern, by one point. Last year’s Division 1 champion, Okemos, had moved into Division 2 this season and tied for third place with Midland Dow as both teams totaled 20 points.

For Groves and coach Dave Farmer, the title meant the end of a chase lasting a decade.

“I’ve been coaching here since 2010 and we’ve had several second and third-place finishes,” Farmer said. “This one is very special because it’s the first high school title I’ve ever won. I won three titles at Eastern Michigan University, but this is my first in 12 years of coaching high school tennis.

“We have a veteran team this year, and that is a big reason why we won it. We had great senior leadership and a lot of good juniors as well.”

Groves came into the tournament with nine seniors on the team and seven in the starting lineup. The Falcons were paced by their singles lineup but received big efforts from doubles down the stretch.

“We have a good group of singles players that carried us for the bulk of the year,” Farmer said. “Our doubles teams really picked it up in the tournament and really helped solidify the team.”

The Falcons also had a talented freshman in the singles lineup, and he made his high school Finals debut in a big way. Groves freshman Michael Liss won the No. 3 singles title as he defeated Will Seymour of Detroit U-D Jesuit 6-4, 6-3.

“It feels absolutely amazing,” Liss said. “I just tried to stay calm and not get upset at anything at all. I feel that as a team we were a cohesive unit, and we all pushed each other to get better. I’m just a freshman, but I know we’ve been really close to winning it as a team. We’ve finished second and third a lot so we really wanted to win it this year.”  

Liss was not the only freshman to win an individual flight championship. Okemos freshman Suchir Nagisetty arrived on the Finals stage in a big way as well as he defeated Andrew Williams of Mattawan 7-5, 6-1, to clinch at No. 4 singles.

The win was especially meaningful for Nagisetty as he followed in the footsteps of his older brother Sid who won an individual flight title during his freshman season at Okemos in 2017. Sid was in attendance cheering and supporting his brother and has played his own role in Suchir’s development as a player.

Okemos tennis“My brother coached me and trained me this summer,” Suchir said. “I wanted to follow in his footsteps and win a state title in my freshman year. It is something I’ve thought about for a long time. There is some pressure, but once you start playing the match your love of tennis takes over and you just concentrate on playing the game. Winning the title feels great, and it’s nice to have something in common I can share with my brother.” 

A new name to Division 2 tennis but a familiar face on the state scene, Okemos sophomore Ethan Portnoy, came away with the No. 1 singles championship. Portnoy, who played doubles last season, moved up to No. 1 singles and defeated Connor Stafford of Grosse Pointe South 6-3, 6-4.

Like Nagisetty, Portnoy had a good example of what it takes to win an individual championship under his own roof as his older brother Josh Portnoy was a two-time Finals flight champion during his high school career at Okemos.

“It’s really cool to follow in my older brother’s footsteps,” Portnoy said. “I had a lot of confidence that I could do it. I played a lot of USTA (United States Tennis Association) tournaments in the summer and had a lot of tough matches, and I knew I could bring that experience to high school tennis.” 

At No. 2 singles, senior Owen Goodrich of Forest Hills Northern wrapped up his career in a memorable way by outlasting Okemos senior George Fan in a grueling, three-set struggle 6-2, 3-6, 6-4.

“I just took it one point at a time,” Goodrich said. “I’ve played him before, and I knew it was going to be a tough match. I knew he’s a great player, but he’s not invincible.”

Winning his final match as a senior was a fitting way to go out for Goodrich, who lost in the final at No. 4 singles as a freshman.

“I lost in the state finals to a player from Okemos as a freshman,” Goodrich said. “Now I win my final match in the state finals against a player from Okemos. I couldn’t ask for a better way to finish my senior year. It’s amazing.”

In doubles competition, winners came from four schools.

Grosse Pointe South, in Division 2 for the first time after having played in Division 1 for years, finished in a tie for sixth place and was led by seniors Blake Discher and Alex Prather. Discher and Prather teamed up to stop Thomas Ladwein and Aaron Li of Midland Dow 6-4, 6-3, at No. 1 doubles.

“We played really good,” Prather said. “It was one of our best days ever. This is the second year that we’ve played as partners, and we do a great job of supporting each other.”

The duo was determined to bring home a title for South, and even though they believed they could win, there was an element of awe when it was over.

“I thought we could take it with how much we put into it,” Discher said, “but in the end we were kind of shocked that we actually did it.”

The Jesuit No. 4 doubles team of Sam Owens and Stephen Cibulas won a tough struggle against Andrew Weitzman and Gabe Klein of Groves 7-5, 7-6 (2). The win was made even harder considering the duo had just spent plenty of energy getting past a tough Forest Hills Northern team in the semifinal round.

“We had a real tough match with Forest Hills Northern, and it drained a lot of our energy,” Owens said. “We had to be more mentally tough in this match. They were up 4-1 in the second half so we had to come back to win it.”

“We just played with more energy,” Cibulas added. “It was all about the energy. We also support each other really well.” 

At No. 2 doubles, the Forest Hills Northern duo of Aaryan Singh and Anderson Halland were pushed to the limit before claiming a 3-6, 6-1, 6-3, victory against Dylan Wolf and Alexandras Abarius of Groves.

Birmingham Seaholm, which tied for sixth with Grosse Pointe South, was paced by its No. 3 doubles team of Alex George and Alex Lewis. The Seaholm duo won the No. 3 doubles title by stopping Kyle Wang and Joey Lamberg of Forest Hills Northern 6-3, 6-3.

Click for full results.

PHOTOS (Top) Birmingham Groves' Michael Liss returns a volley Saturday during his run to the No. 3 singles championship. (Middle) Okemos' Ethan Portnoy drives a shot during a No. 1 singles match. (Click for more from High School Sports Scene.) 

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.)