Okemos, Genschaw Earn D2 Celebrations

By Pam Shebest
Special for MHSAA.com

October 21, 2017

KALAMAZOO — Okemos went home with the team trophy Saturday, but no one celebrated an individual medal with more exuberance than Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central senior Connor Genschaw at No. 1 singles.

The Chiefs won their first Lower Peninsula Division 2 title in 10 years before the finals even started at Kalamazoo College.

No. 3 doubles clinched the championship in the semifinals when top seeds Deniz Kalfa and Druv Talluri defeated Midland Dow’s fifth seeds, Ryan Killmaster and Kevin Kraef, 6-3, 6-0, to seal the win.

Kalfa and Talluri were two of six Chiefs who ended the season without losing a match. 

“I don’t take a lot of credit for that (state title),” Okemos coach Chris Silker said. “These kids have worked really, really hard.

“We have an incredibly vested community that is behind the kids 110 percent. I think that’s the key to our success.”

Okemos dominated with 36 points. Birmingham Groves and Midland Dow tied for second with 21 each and Forest Hills Central was fourth with 20. Birmingham Seaholm (18) rounded out the top five.

Genschaw, the second seed, was bolstered by the roar of the crowd cheering on every winner and carrying him to a 6-0, 4-6, 6-1 win over top seed Gabe Liss of Birmingham Groves in the final.

Genschaw was swamped by teammates on the court after the match.

“It’s a culmination of all four years going into this match,” Genschaw said. “I had to cap it off with this one. It means so much to me emotionally.

“Now I’m not going into my life saying, ‘Oh, I lost in the finals in my senior year.’ Now I can say I got a state championship my senior year, and it’s awesome.”

Genschaw breezed through the first set but by the second, “I think I exhausted myself playing so well in the first set. I was honestly on fire in the first set, and I got really tired in the second set.

“Then the last set, I was like, this is my senior year. I’ve got to push as hard as I could. I ended up winning the last set, 6-1. It was all mental at that point.”

“Expecting it would be more than I would say coming in, but I sure hoped he could do it,” Central coach Dan Bolhouse added. “He played well throughout the tournament.

“He plays a lot of tournaments out of season so he was mentally prepared to play some tough opponents.”

Liss said he knew the match would be a challenge.

“He’s a senior, and he was thriving in the atmosphere,” the Groves junior said. “He had the crowd firing him up. It was his last year, and he was playing the best he could.”

After dropping the first set at love, “I just tried taking it one game at a time,” Liss added. “I knew the score was 6-0, but the games were closer and I was still in the match and (I knew) that I could keep fighting back for every point.”

No. 2 and 3 singles also featured Groves players with second seed Gabe Vidinas defeating top seed Josh Portnoy of Okemos, 6-1, 7-5, at No. 2 and Jonah Liss losing to top seed Shrey Patel of Okemos, 6-2, 6-4.

Portnoy and Patel are both freshmen.

“Shrey and Josh have been a big part of our success,” Silker said. “They both went undefeated this season until Josh’s final loss today against Gabe Vidinas.

“Even though (Portnoy) had a win over him during the season, Gabe played much better today and I think a little bit of that was his veteran experience.”

Vidinas’ match featured such long points that his two-setter took as long as the first flight’s three.

After streaking to a 4-0 lead to start the match, Vidinas won 6-1 but then had to fight for the second set.

I played him twice before and he grinds; he’s very tough to play,” Vidinas said of Portnoy. “Every time I always have to be playing my best to beat him. It was a tough match. 

“I could tell he wasn’t playing his best in the first set. I did my best to play my game.”

Vidinas, a junior, called for a trainer at 6-5 of the second set.

“I was cramping quite a bit,” he said. “Luckily I aced him to get to the changeover. I just held it in and toughed it out (to win).”

With teammates playing next to him, “The energy of my teammates makes me play better and I can be shouting and hollering all the time and my teammates can support me,” Vidinas said. “It’s always nice.”

Portnoy a freshman, said he knew what happened in the first set and tried to change it for the second.

“I was playing too offensive,” he said. “I kept missing deep. I think I should have played safer.”

By the second set, “I just decided his forehand is really strong,” Liss said. “His backhand wasn’t as good, but it was still pretty good.

“I’m like, I’ll just keep it to his backhand and he won’t be able to attack as much. It worked.”

The Patel match featured two freshmen in the third-flight final.

“I had to stay calm, be confident and move (Jonah Liss) around,” Patel said. “He played a lot better in the second set.”

Liss said playing on one of the front courts was “cool.”

“I’ve watched a few (USTA) national tournaments here,” he said. “It felt really cool. I’ve seen a lot of great players play here.”

Portage Central senior Vishu Ghantasala, the second seed at No. 4 singles, expected a tough opponent and he got it, losing to Okemos top-seeded junior Daniel Gorelik, 6-0, 6-1.

Ghantasala got a look at Gorelik during the semis.

“I saw Daniel playing next to me and he was done a good hour, hour and a half before me, so I knew it was going to be really tough when I had to play just a half hour after I was done,” Ghantasala said.

“A couple of my teammates have played him and they gave me some tips, but in the end it was really hard.”

Although his team already had the team trophy, Gorelik, who lost just three games the entire tournament, said that did not affect his play.

“The mindset was still just go out there and do your job, not let up,” he said. “You’ve got to get to the ultimate goal.”

Gorelik, who finished the season undefeated, said his teammates pushed each other all year.

“We have a lot of talent on the team this year and it makes it much better when you have a lot of good people to hit with,” he said.

Okemos’ No. 3 doubles team featured a senior (Kalfa) and a freshman (Talluri) who went undefeated all season.

Playing in his first state tournament, “It feels crazy,” Talluri said. “It’s just a crazy time. Everything just happened so fast. It was so much fun with the team.”

Kalfa felt a bit of pressure.

“This match was a lot different than any other match I’ve played knowing it’s my last high school match,” he said.

Partnering all season, “Mentally we became more than friends, more than partners, like brothers almost,” Kalfa said of Talluri. 

“We always brought each other up, even today when we were both down mentally, the other one was trying their best to bring us up. He’s the best partner I could ask for.”

The duo defeated Seaholm’s second seeds, Aidan O’Neill and Max Levitsky, 7-5, 5-7, 6-0, in the final.

Okemos swept the doubles flights.

Other winners were second seeds Dinakar Talluri and Zal Chinoy at No. 1, top seeds Rohan Shah and Siddharth Agisetty, who did not lose a match all season, at No. 2; and second seeds Karthik Kolisetty and Aditya Kandula at No. 4.

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PHOTOS: (Top) Okemos celebrates its Division 2 championship Saturday at Kalamazoo College. (Middle) Forest Hills Central's Connor Genschaw returns a volley during his No. 1 singles match. (Top photo by HighSchoolSportsScene.com; bottom photo by Pam Shebest.)

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.)