Perfect Ending to Sienko's Story

November 1, 2012

B y Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

If Michael Sienko could re-play the last three years of his school tennis career, he’d hope for them to play out the same way.  

That would mean experiencing again the disappointment of falling in two straight MHSAA championship matches. But those moments of frustration would be more than worth reliving this season, which ended two weeks ago with the Division 4 championship at No. 1 singles.

“Winning my last match is not something a lot of guys can say, and I think it’s cool that I lost twice in the state finals and ended up winning it. It’s a good story,” Sienko said. “It taught me lessons about not giving up and just working hard to accomplish my goals, and that’s what I did.”

In fact, Sienko didn’t lose a high school match in 2012. The Williamston senior gets a Second Half High 5 after finishing 28-0 this fall to run his career record to 102-8. The championship actually was Sienko’s second – he also won the Division 4 title at No. 2 singles as a freshman.

But much has changed since Sienko joined the Hornets varsity in 2009, playing the second position behind his older brother Peter, who finished MHSAA runner-up that season.

Michael was a slight 5-foot-3 then, before hitting a growth spurt at the end of his freshman year that helped him get to 5-10.

But he still had growing to do to set up this perfect season.

Sienko’s league, the Capital Area Activities Conference White, has produced the last three Division 4 champions at No. 1 singles. In 2010, Sienko lost to then-junior Paul Heeder of Lansing Catholic, 6-4, 6-2, after advancing to the final by beating the No. 1 seed. But Sienko entered last season’s Finals as the top seed and beat Heeder in a semifinal match – before then falling to second-seeded Chance Conley of Portland, 6-4, 6-2 again.

Heeder graduated in the spring, but Conley also is a senior this fall. That meant the two of them could meet at least four times – including a rematch in the Final at Kalamazoo College.

Fueled by the 2011 loss, Sienko got to work. He played more during the offseason and did more conditioning. He also hit the weight room – “It’s not like I was benching 250 or something, like the football guys, one, two, three and drop the weight,” he said – and focused on high-rep workouts that added explosiveness and velocity to his shots.

He also did some mental training, with the help of his older brother. Peter Sienko plays for Army, and texted Michael frequently before matches, mostly to help build his brother’s confidence. “Tennis, a lot of it is mental,” Michael said. “It’s confidence. If you’re not getting down on yourself, chances are you’re going to win. If you’re down on yourself, there’s really no help for you.”

Sienko did indeed see Conley in their final high school match. And this time, Sienko came out on top 6-1, 6-0.

“Michael had a goal all season to win states, and he worked very hard to achieve it,” Williamston coach Jenny Nalepa said. “He has a great attitude on and off the court and set an example for all the other players on the team.”

Williamston ended up 11th as a team at the Division 4 Final, and Sienko helping his teammates was a big part of his final season. He’ll get the chance to play at the collegiate level – his favorites are Army and Air Force – but this fall was about team, and when the Hornets lost, he was disappointed too although he’d won his point. He enjoys leading and fell into that position easily as a senior.

That’s how he’d like to be remembered, as much for his perfect season and his two championships.

“I gave 100 percent every time I played, and I definitely tried to play for Williamston and not myself,” Sienko said. “Because that’s the bigger picture.”

PHOTO: Williamston's Michael Sienko returns a volleyball during the MHSAA Division 4 Final at Kalamazoo College. (Click to see more from

Negaunee Caps Near-Perfect Season by Taking Back Top Spot in UPD1

By Jerry DeRoche
Special for

May 31, 2023

KINGSFORD – The Negaunee Miners are no strangers to lifting Upper Peninsula Division 1 tennis title hardware.

Coach Kyle Saari’s program has been a powerhouse over the past 14 years, winning eight championships and finishing runner-up three times. 

Still, the Miners entered the 2023 event having finished second behind Escanaba the last two seasons. But this Negaunee squad was dripping with confidence, having gone through the regular campaign unbeaten and barely losing a set along the way. 

With that in mind, the Miners' championship Wednesday at Kingsford High School was rather expected. But take nothing away from the 12 Negaunee players who shined nearly as brightly as the blazing sun overhead with seven flight championships and one second-place finish to recapture the trophy in emphatic fashion. 

The Miners are presented with the championship trophy Wednesday. The Miners finished the day with 23 points, well in front of 2022 champion Escanaba, which recorded 11 points. Kingsford took third with eight, Marquette placed fourth with six, Westwood wound up fifth with five and Gladstone did not post a win and finished sixth. 

“From day one, they wanted to bring a U.P. title back home,” Saari said of his squad. “So for us to take seven out of eight finals, it’s a great feeling. You have to play your best on the final day, and today they were able to do that. They answered the bell.” 

Frankly, the Miners have done that all season, to a remarkable degree. Negaunee not only beat every opponent they faced along the way, the Miners' players won a staggering 155 of 160 matches they played combined. 

And to cap it all off, Negaunee lost just two of 32 sets on the final day of the season. 

“This year has been kind of unprecedented,” Saari said. “I don’t think you can ever see (155-5) coming. Our 2012 team was 162-7, and this team beat that as far as winning percentage. 

“The unique thing was they were able to answer the challenge every single day. They’re a humble group, they do it the right way and they handle it the right way, too.” 

The Miners swept the four doubles flights. At No. 1 doubles, Jace Turri and James Thomson knocked off Kingsford’s Ben Trevillian and Gabe Lafraniere 6-1, 7-5, while Gavin Jacobson and Gavin Downey defeated Gabe Tossava and Reid Frustaglio of Westwood 6-1, 6-1 at No. 2 doubles.

Escanaba’s Dawson Williams sends a backhand at No. 1 singles.In the No. 3 doubles flight, Philip Nelson and Zack Brundage posted a 7-5, 6-2 win over Nick Chaillier and Vincent Guindon of Escanaba, and at No. 4 doubles, Ethan Harris and Brandon Borlace upended Brett Berglund and Isaac Lebouef of Kingsford 6-3, 6-3. 

The only flight that didn’t end with a Negaunee win was No. 1 singles, where Escanaba senior Dawson Williams defeated Negaunee senior Luke Syrjala in two tough sets, 7-6 (2), 6-4. 

Williams was overwhelmed with emotion after putting his name in the U.P. boys tennis record book. 

“I’m lost for words right now,” Williams said, fighting off tears. “I never thought when I was a freshman walking into tennis, I’d be winning a U.P. title at one singles.” 

Williams said the matchup with Syrjala, their fifth duel of the season, came with the added difficulty of playing a left-hander. 

“It is always tough to deal with a lefty, and he’s a very competitive player,” said Williams, who won four of the five matches with Negaunee’s top singles player along the way.

But in the overall competition, Negaunee’s depth was too much for all the other competitors. 

“We feel that from one singles to four singles, on any day, they could have each other’s (flight) numbers, so all four of them were able to push each other during the course of the year to make us better,” Saari said. “And I think that’s true within our doubles lineup, too.” 

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PHOTOS (Top) Negaunee’s James Thomson returns a volley during a No. 1 doubles match, with partner Jace Turri. (Middle) The Miners are presented with the championship trophy Wednesday. (Below) Escanaba’s Dawson Williams sends a backhand during the championship match at No. 1 singles. (Photos by Dennis Mansfield.)