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 Posts Near-Flawless Finals Finish to Complete Perfect Season

By John Vrancic
Special for

May 29, 2024

MARQUETTE — The Negaunee boys completed a perfect tennis season here Wednesday, retaining their Upper Peninsula Division 1 tennis title with 22 points.

Negaunee, which finished undefeated over 11 meets, was followed by Marquette with 15 points and Escanaba with six.

“We have four meets which we call the U.P. grand slam, those being the Kingsford and Negaunee Invitational, Mid-Peninsula Conference and U.P. Finals,” Miners’ coach Kyle Saari said. “This is probably the most rewarding among the titles we’ve had because we had to replace seven guys who graduated last year.

"Our No. 2 doubles (Carson Lajimodiere-Blake Holmgren) was down 4-1 to Westwood in the first set (of a semifinal) and were able to come back and win that match, which was instrumental in setting us up for team success.”

This marked the 10th U.P. championship in 13 years for the Miners, who were crowned M-PC champions for the 13th consecutive time.

Senior Gavin Saunders finished 22-0 this season, including Wednesday’s No. 1 singles final in which he outlasted Marquette senior Matt Barsch 5-7, 7-5 (7-4), 6-1.

“I just had to grind it out one point at a time,” Saunders said. “Coach always says it’s 0-0, and the second set went into a tie-breaker. This is the longest and by far the toughest match I had all year. I hadn’t played him before, so I didn’t know what to expect.”

Saunders, who will play basketball at Lakeland College in Sheboygan, Wis., next winter, was the No. 2 singles champ the past two seasons.

“I don’t think there was much difference because the competition was very tough,” he said. “This one is the most special because it’s my senior year.”

Saunders reached the title match by defeating Westwood’s Andrew Niemi (6-0, 6-1), and Barsch topped Kingsford’s Gavin Moore (6-3, 7-5) in the semifinals.

Negaunee’s Mick Kumpula defeated Marquette’s Caden Laurn 6-2, 6-2 in the No. 3 singles final, and Ethan Harris posted a 6-2, 7-5 victory over Westwood’s Jaxson Alderson for the No. 4 crown.

In doubles, Negaunee’s James Thomson and Brady Johnson posted a 6-2, 6-0 triumph over Marquette’s Billy Krebs-Lucas Belkowski at No. 1.

Negaunee sophomores Easton Guenette and Nolan O’Dovero claimed their first title in a 6-1, 2-6, 6-1 conquest of Escanaba junior Adam Prey and sophomore Caden Fulsher in No. 3 doubles.

“We were more consistent getting the ball over the net in the third set,” O’Dovero said. “I think this is a good stepping stone for us. I think this will set us up for success down the road. Going undefeated as a team is definitely good motivation for us. I think we played well overall.”

Guenette said strong net play helped them take the first set.

“They were more aggressive in the second set, then we just got ourselves together and went from there,” he added. “We re-established our net play, and that made quite a difference in the third set.”

Kolten Store and Quinn Walters also provided the Miners with a championship in No. 4 doubles with a 6-4, 7-5 victory over Marquette’s Bode Helman and Conner Henry.

Marquette juniors Abe Kentala and Connor Stade blanked Negaunee’s Lajimodiere and Holmgren 6-0, 6-0 for their first championship at No. 2 doubles.

“Having confidence in myself and my partner and sticking with the fundamentals played a big role today,” Stade said. “Our serves and net play were huge. This is a big confidence builder going into next year. This shows we can play with anybody.”

Kentala had similar thoughts on this sunny and seasonably-cool afternoon.

“This feels great,” he said. “A lot of work goes into it, and we played with consistency. Negaunee is always good. Staying upbeat always makes a difference. It helps you keep your head in the game and stay positive.

Marquette’s Chase Thomsen took No. 2 singles, topping Negaunee’s Tyler Lajimodiere 6-4, 6-3.

Click for full results.

(Photo courtesy of the Marquette athletic department.)