Preview: Champions Hope to Reign On

October 17, 2013

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

All four reigning champions at this weekend’s MHSAA Lower Peninsula Boys Tennis Finals are playing to continue incredible strings of success atop their respective divisions in the sport.

Ann Arbor Greenhills in Division 4 is playing for its sixth straight title, while Midland Dow in Division 2 is hoping for its fifth consecutive. Ann Arbor Huron in Division 1 and Detroit Country Day in Division 3 are going for their third straight titles – and all four are ranked No.1 in their respective divisions entering Friday’s first rounds of play.

Below is a brief look at top contenders at all four tournaments. Play begins Friday morning and finishes Saturday. Click for more including brackets and seeds for all 32 flights.

DIVISION 1 at Midland Tennis Center

Top ranked: No. 1 Ann Arbor Huron, No. 2 Birmingham Brother Rice, No. 3 Novi.

Huron has won the last two LP Division 1 championships, by six points last season and four in 2011. Both times Brother Rice finished second, tying with Novi last fall. Novi has never won an MHSAA team championship, but brings back experienced players from last year’s run.

Huron: The River Rats are lined up with two top seeds and four second seeds – and all four doubles pairs among those six. Reigning No. 3 singles champion Colin Williams is back as the top seed in that flight, and reigning No. 1 doubles champions Akihiro Ota and Aaron Brodkey also are back to attempt a repeat. They top a veteran doubles group: Michael Bondin was half of last season’s MHSAA runner-up at No. 3 and teams with Danny Friedman for the second seed at that flight, and Austin Luker and Will Brenner were No. 4 runners-up last season and are back with new partners – Luker with Jason Chen as the second seed at No. 2 and Brenner with Orion Sang as the second seed at No. 4.

Brother Rice: The Warriors are seeded at seven flights with four top seeds including three and a second in doubles. Connor Parks and George Hamaty made the semifinals at No. 2 doubles last season and are the second seed at No. 1, while reigning champions Joey Hildebrand (No. 3) and David Weatherford (No. 4) have teamed up for the top seed at No. 2. Brendan Dillon, Weatherford’s partner last season, is part of the top seed at No. 3 doubles with Joe Paradiso.

Novi: The Wildcats are seeded at every flight, led by top-seeded Tim Wang at No. 1 singles – he made the quarterfinals last season. Koushik Kondapi is back as the second seed at No. 3 singles after finishing runner-up at that flight in 2012, and Andrew Ying is back at No. 1 doubles with new partner Michael Chang after finishing runner-up in the top doubles flight last season. Chang was half of the runner-up at No. 2 doubles.

Northville’s Connor Johnston: He’s the second seed at No. 1 singles after winning the No. 2 championship in straight sets in 2012. He lost to Novi’s Wang at the Regional.

Detroit Catholic Central’s Michael Dube’: He’s the third seed at No. 1 singles after making the second round while the fifth seed last season. He also fell to Novi’s Wang during the Regional.

Troy Athens’ Richard Zhang: He made the quarterfinals at No. 1 last season after entering the tournament unseeded.

DIVISION 2 at Hope College/Holland Christian

Top ranked: No. 1 Midland Dow, No. 2 Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central, No. 3 Detroit U-D Jesuit.

Reigning No. 1 individual champion: Davis Crocker, Kalamazoo Loy Norrix.

Dow has owned this division the last four seasons, beating runner-up Forest Hills Central by 12 points last season and 14 in 2011. U-D Jesuit finished seventh last season and could make a substantial jump.

Dow: All eight flights are seeded first or second. Julian Guerra is the top seed at No. 2 singles after winning No. 3 last season, and Michael Szabo is the top seed at No. 4 as he plays for a repeat title. Jason Chang and Vikram Shanker also are back as reigning champions, at No. 1 doubles, and Patrick Eschbach and Colin Angell are the top seed at No. 2 doubles after Eschbach was part of last season’s No. 3 champion and Angell was part of the No. 2 runner-up.

Forest Hills Central: Another run could be keyed by the doubles pairs; all four are seeded third or better. Nico Finelli and Joey McClure are the third seed at No. 2 after Finelli was part of the runner-up last season and McClure was half of the No. 4 champion pair. Carson Schmidt and Andrew Fox are the top seed at No. 3, and two singles flights also are seeded.

U-D Jesuit: The Cubs bring back an identical singles lineup from last season’s Finals, plus No. 1 doubles pair Timmy Hoffman and Marty Nagle, who made the semifinals at No. 2 last season. Jesuit never has finished among the top two at a Finals, but does have seeds at every flight this weekend.

Kalamazoo Loy Norrix’s Davis Crocker: The reigning No. 1 singles champion won last season as the second seed, but enters with top billing this time.

Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern’s Justin Minzlaff: He’ll try to claim the No. 2 singles title after finishing runner-up at No. 4 in 2012; he enters as the fifth seed.

Birmingham Seaholm’s Griffin Neel and Kenji Johnston: They’re seeded second at No. 1 doubles with Neel coming off the No. 2 doubles championship last season – when Johnston played No. 2 singles.

DIVISION 3 at Kalamazoo College

Top ranked: No. 1 Detroit County Day, No. 2 St. Joseph, No. 3 Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook-Kingswood.

Country Day and St. Joseph have a rivalry growing atop Division 3 as the Yellowjackets have won the last two Division 3 titles, with St. Joseph second both times. Players from the two met in six of the eight flight championship matches last fall. Watch for East Grand Rapids, which is seeded fourth or higher at every flight.

Country Day: Some of the names at the top of the lineup have changed, but not the level of play. Country Day enters with six top seeds – including at all four doubles flights – and led by two-time No. 3 singles champion Rishi Patel, who is the third seed at No. 1 this weekend. Rishabh Nayak and Adam Dunn are the top seed at No. 2 doubles with Nayak coming off last season’s No. 3 championship, and Matt Stebbins and D.J. Bailey hope to add a title at No. 3 after winning No. 4 doubles in 2012.

St. Joseph: The Bears also return some veterans after finishing eight points behind Country Day a year ago. Thomas Bellio was the No. 2 singles runner-up and returns as the second seed at No. 1 (he also won No. 3 singles as a freshman), and Kenny Garstecki is the top seed at No. 3 after winning No. 4 last season. Matt VanWinkle and Ed Nieh hope they are a championship combination as the third seed at No. 1 doubles after VanWinkle was part of last season’s runner-up and Nieh was part of the runner-up at No. 3. Nick Stants and Peter Kim are the third seed at No. 2, with Stants formerly part of last season’s No. 4 doubles runner-up.

Cranbrook-Kingswood: The Cranes are the only team aside from Country Day to win a Division 3 title over the last five seasons; Cranbrook-Kingswood won in both 2010 and 2008. The Cranes enter this weekend with seven seeds, including three seconds in doubles. Marc Sable is the sixth seed at No. 1 singles after making the semifinals at No. 2 in 2012.

East Grand Rapids' Garrett Goldman: The top seed at No. 1 singles entered 2012’s Finals as the third seed and fell in the quarterfinals to eventual runner-up Jan Krakora from Plainwell. Goldman did win No. 2 singles as a sophomore.

DIVISION 4 at Gland Blanc/Holly

Top ranked: No. 1 Ann Arbor Greenhills, No. 2 Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett, No. 3 Lansing Catholic.

Greenhills is looking to continue its MHSAA-best current streak of five straight boys tennis titles and last season won six flights including all four in doubles. Lansing Catholic has finished runner-up twice during that five-year run and University Liggett tied for third a year ago.

Greenhills: Many of the Gryphons’ top players this season succeeded at lower flights during last fall’s run. Zach Martell is the fifth seed at No. 1 singles after winning as part of the No. 1 doubles pair in 2012 (and at No. 4 singles in 2011), second-seeded No. 2 singles player Nick Sandhu was part of last season’s No. 2 doubles champ, and second-seeded Zach Tsai at No. 3 singles is coming off winning the No. 4 title. Adhi Rajaprabhakaran (No. 1 doubles) and Neil Sykes (No. 2) both were part of championship pairs at lower flights last season, and Gage Feldeisen is the second seed at No. 4 singles after teaming with Sykes to win No. 4 doubles.

University Liggett: A pair of top-seeded doubles teams anchor a lineup with six seeds total. Alan Jurcak and August Bonacci made the No. 2 doubles quarterfinals last season and are the top seed at that flight, and Jackson Benning and Davey Sekhon are the top-seeded pair at No. 4.

Lansing Catholic: The top three seeds at No. 1 singles last season all were from the Capital Area Activities Conference White, and with both finalists graduated Lansing Catholic’s Matt Heeder moves up from the third to first seed. No. 2 singles player Anthony Davis also returns to his 2012 flight, this time as the fifth seed, and three other flights carry seeds into the tournament.

Kalamazoo Hackett Catholic Central’s Danny Moyer: He made it to the quarterfinals at No. 1 singles last season as the fourth seed and enters Friday as the second.

Kalamazoo Christian’s Andrew Klein: Last season’s runner-up at No. 2 singles is the sixth seed at No. 1.

PHOTO: Ann Arbor Greenhills’ Zach Tsai returns a volley during his Division 4 championship match at No. 4 singles against Comstock Park’s Zac Rossman last fall. (Click to see 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.)