Preview: Finalists Travel New Title Path

October 14, 2020

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

The format for this weekend’s Lower Peninsula Boys Tennis Finals will be different – but many of the teams we’re used to seeing raise championship trophies could be doing so again by Friday evening.

Due to COVID-19 precautions, this season’s MHSAA Tournament was switched to a head-to-head team format that will see a total of 64 teams spread out Thursday across four divisions and 16 sites to begin the conclusion of this season’s title march.

First-round and Quarterfinal matches are Thursday, with the semifinalists then converging on four sites for the final two rounds Friday. Action both days begins at 11 a.m., with Finals on Friday expected to begin by 4 p.m.

Visit the “Tournament Home” for brackets and tournament information for all four divisions, and see below for contenders to watch in each.

Division 1

First round and Quarterfinals: Novi High School, Novi Middle School, Farmington High School, Northville High School
Semifinals and Finals: Novi High School

2019 top three: T-1. Ann Arbor Huron & Ann Arbor Pioneer, 3. Troy.

First-round matches:

No. 1 Okemos vs. No. 16 Grand Blanc
No. 2 Ann Arbor Huron vs. No. 15 Canton
No. 3 Ann Arbor Pioneer vs. No. 14 Utica Eisenhower
No. 4 Northville vs. No. 13 Holland West Ottawa
No. 5 Troy vs. No. 12 Rochester Hills Stoney Creek
No. 6 Bloomfield Hills vs. No. 11 Rockford
No. 7 Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice vs. No. 10 Troy Athens
No. 8 Novi vs. No. 9 Grosse Pointe South

Okemos: The Chiefs, after winning back-to-back Division 2 championships in 2017 and 2018, came in fourth last season in Division 1. This fall they are 25-0 with wins over nine of the other 15 teams playing in this event including the rest of the top eight. Druv Talluri and Siddharth Nagisetty were the No. 1 doubles champion pair last season, but have split up – Talluri and Shrey Patel at No. 1 and Nagisetty and Ethan Portnoy at No. 2 are both undefeated together this fall. Top singles player Josh Portnoy is 21-1, No. 2 Rohan Shah is 22-1, No. 3 Colson Wells is 16-1 and No. 4 George Fan is 19-0 in singles play.

Huron: The River Rats are 16-2, their only losses to Okemos and Ann Arbor Greenhills. Doubles played a big part in last year’s shared team title, and Nick Grosh and TJ Bai are 13-2 partnered again, this time at No. 1 after winning the No. 2 doubles flight in 2019. Vincent Tremonti was part of the No. 4 doubles champion last season and is playing No. 2 with Aidan Storey; together they are 14-2.

Pioneer: The Pioneers are 18-3-1, with losses to Okemos one and Huron twice, and a tie against Troy. Juniors Isaac Herrenkohl (26-3) and Noah Vogel (25-4) were the flight champions at Nos. 3 and 4 singles, respectively, last season and have both moved up one flight. No. 1 singles Stanley Rhodes and No. 4 Corin Tang both have at least 21 wins as well. Evan Roopas was part of last year’s No. 4 doubles champ and Aditya Abbaraju was part of the No. 2 runner-up, and together they are 21-4 and playing No. 2 this weekend.

Other notes: Troy Athens senior Gabe Brown is 22-0 at No. 1 singles. … Utica Eisenhower should provide an intriguing challenge to Pioneer in singles with Ben Saunders (28-6) and Luke Suchyta (27-7) at Nos. 3 and 4. … Rockford’s Sam Danner has put together a 24-5 season playing Nos. 3 and 4 singles.

Division 2

First round and Quarterfinals: Greater Midland Tennis Center, Midland Bullock Creek High School, Bay City’s Richard Shaw Park, Midland Dow
Semifinals and Finals: Greater Midland Tennis Center

2019 top three: 1. Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern, 2. Detroit U-D Jesuit, 3. Birmingham Groves.  

First-round matches:

No. 1 Forest Hills Northern vs. No. 16 Wyandotte Roosevelt
No. 2 Mattawan vs. No. 15 South Lyon East
No. 3 Forest Hills Central vs. No. 14 Gibraltar Carlson
No. 4 Birmingham Groves vs. No. 13 Grosse Pointe North
No. 5 Birmingham Seaholm vs. No. 12 Warren De La Salle Collegiate
No. 6 Midland Dow vs. No. 11 North Farmington
No. 7 Portage Central vs. No. 10 East Lansing
No. 8 Traverse City Central vs. No. 9 Walled Lake Central

Forest Hills Northern: The 26-0 Huskies regained a Finals championship last season for the first time since 1998, and are favored to repeat. Three of six players who were part of doubles flight titles in 2019 return this weekend; Justin Lee and Cole Rynbrandt are 29-0 together and playing No. 1 after winning No. 2 last year, and Jack Sparhawk is 27-2 with No. 2 partner Aaryan Singh after Sparhawk was part of the No. 3 champ last fall. All four singles players have at least 20 wins as well: junior Owen Goodrich is the reigning runner-up at No. 4 and 27-1 at that flight, while sophomore Ryan Lee (No. 3) is 26-2, senior Sid Varma (No. 2) is 25-3 and senior Peter Renucci (No. 1) is 20-5.

Mattawan: The Wildcats enter 18-3 and seeking their first top-two Finals finish, with losses this season only to Forest Hills Northern, Forest Hills Central and Division 1 ranked Hudsonville. Mattawan tied for seventh a year ago and boasts a powerful singles lineup led by senior Nathaniel Webster, who won No. 1 singles, was runner-up in 2018 and is 18-0 this fall. Junior Luke Hodgman (21-2) and freshman Jacob Hodgman (23-0) fill in strongly at Nos. 2 and 3, respectively.

Forest Hills Central: The Rangers have lost only to Northern twice, Groves and Greenhills, and the first defeat to Northern was only 5-3. Forest Hills Central was sixth last season and also tied Dow twice and Portage Central this fall. Sophomore Sammy Yin (21-5), senior Jeremy James (25-1) and sophomore Chris Shang (21-6) are another impressive singles group.

Other notes: Midland Dow would see the Rangers again in the quarterfinals if both win their first match. Dow also tied Groves. Freshman Aaron Li (23-3) at No. 4 singles has been among standouts. … South Lyon East has a tough draw, but senior Adi Chottera should be a nice challenge at No. 2 singles entering the weekend at 23-2. … Roosevelt is in a similar spot, but junior Sammy Oswald will have a chance to build another impressive win into his 22-2 record mostly at No. 4 singles.

Division 3

First round and Quarterfinals: Holland Christian High School, Zeeland East High School, Holland’s Harbor Lights Middle School, Holland High School
Semifinals and Finals: Holland Christian High School

2019 top three: 1. Ann Arbor Greenhills, T-2 Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood, T-2. Detroit Country Day.  

First-round matches:

No. 1 Ann Arbor Greenhills vs. No. 16 Goodrich
No. 2 Cranbrook Kingswood vs. No. 15 Parma Western
No. 3 Detroit Country Day vs. No. 14 St. Joseph
No. 4 St. Clair vs. No. 13 St. Johns
No. 5 Chelsea vs. No. 12 Sturgis
No. 6 Grand Rapids Christian vs. No. 11 Petoskey
No. 7 East Grand Rapids vs. No. 10 Ada Forest Hills Eastern
No. 8 Haslett vs. No. 9 Allegan

Greenhills: The reigning champion Gryphons are 13-6, the defeats either to Division 1 teams, or Cranbrook twice decided by tie-breakers (Greenhills also defeated Cranbrook once on a tie-breaker). Junior Mert Oral (21-1) and sophomore Rishi Verma (22-0) are the reigning champions at No. 1 and No. 3 singles, respectively, while Joey Formicola and Thomas Zeng are 15-8 at No. 1 doubles this fall after being part of flight champs last year at Nos. 2 and 4, respectively. Sophomore Chakor Rajendra also is 22-0, playing No. 2 singles.

Cranbrook Kingswood: The Cranes tied for second last season after winning four straight Division 3 titles, and they’re back in the mix with a freshman and two sophomores making up the majority of the singles lineup. Sophomore Dimitri Moriarty is 16-3 at No. 2 and freshman Devyn Gans is 17-2 at No. 3 – while senior Geoffrey Qin is undefeated at No. 4.

Country Day: Last year’s tie was Country Day’s fifth straight runner-up finish after it opened the last decade with four Division 3 championships. Boasting ties this season against Cranbrook and Division 1 Bloomfield Hills, the Yellowjackets are no doubt going to be back in the chase this weekend. Clay Hartje and Aidan Khaghany were No. 3 doubles champs last season and are 10-3 together at No. 2.

Other notes: St. Clair took Division 2 Groves and Seaholm both to 5-3 in losses, and three of four singles players who were Finals runners-up in 2019 are back in the lineup. Junior Derek Distelrath is back at No. 1 and 25-3, while sophomore Ian Pinnoo has moved from No. 4 to No. 2 and is 23-5. Sophomore Michael Mascarin was No. 3 runner-up last season and is 14-2 at No. 2 doubles with Joey Fajardo. … Chelsea’s two head-to-head losses were to Division 1 contenders Huron and Pioneer, and all of its singles starters – junior Hunter Napieralski, sophomore Peter Mourad, junior Lucas Hopkins and freshman Mason Strach – have at least 30 wins. … Allegan shared the Division 4 championship a year ago and enters 14-2-3. Sophomore Eli Festerling is 21-3 mostly at No. 2 singles after winning the Division 4 title at No. 4 in 2019. ... Sophomore Sreejay Ramakrishnan is having an excellent season at No. 1 singles for Forest Hills Eastern, posting a 25-4 record.

Division 4

First round and Quarterfinals: Portage Central High School, Portage Northern High School, Kalamazoo Loy Norrix High School, Portage West Middle School
Semifinals and Finals: Portage Central High School

2019 top three: T-1. Allegan, T-1. Kalamazoo Hackett Catholic Prep, 3. Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett.

First-round matches:

No. 1 Traverse City St. Francis vs. No. 16 Niles Brandywine
No. 2 Kalamazoo Hackett Catholic Prep vs. No. 15 Grosse Ile
No. 3 Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett vs. No. 14 Chesaning
No. 4 Hudsonville Unity Christian vs. No. 13 Frankenmuth
No. 5 Grand Rapids NorthPointe Christian vs. No. 12 Berrien Springs
No. 6 Grand Rapids Catholic Central vs. No. 11 Lansing Catholic
No. 7 Jackson Lumen Christi vs. No. 10 Big Rapids
No. 8 Williamston vs. No. 9 Pontiac Notre Dame Prep

St. Francis: The Gladiators are seeking their first MHSAA Finals championship in this sport, but finished runner-up in 2018 and tied for fourth last season. They’re tested against the best, with most of their competition against larger schools and also a 4-4 tie with Hackett. Junior Ben Schmude is back as half of the reigning No. 1 doubles champion and 29-3 with new partner Cody Richards – last year’s No. 3 singles champion as a sophomore. Senior Charlie Schmude leads singles at 30-9 at No. 1, with three freshmen filling out the lineup led by Tristan Bonanni (30-4) at No. 2.

Hackett: The Irish are coming off their first championship since 2005 and sit 11-0-2 this fall with the ties to St. Francis and Portage Central. Senior Jack Ford was the runner-up at No. 2 singles last season and is 15-1 back at that flight, while sophomore Tommy Kling is 15-1 at No. 3 and sophomore Niklas Johansson is 14-2 at No. 4. Johansson was part of the No. 4 doubles runner-up last season with Jack Gordon, now 12-3 at No. 3 with Marcus Alcaraz. Senior Anthony Toweson was part of the No. 2 doubles runner-up in 2019, and he’s 11-3 at No. 2 with new partner Sam Magnell.

Liggett: The Knights missed causing a three-way tie for the championship last year by a point, and they’re seeking to regain the top spot for the first time since winning back-to-back in 2016 and 2017. They finished just a point behind St. Francis at a quad in August and went on to face mostly larger opponents. Senior William Cooksey is the three-time reigning champ at No. 1 singles and 19-1 this fall. Sophomore Gerry Sherer was the runner-up last season at No. 4 singles and he’s 20-7 this fall playing at that flight and 10 matches at No. 2.

Other notes: Unity Christian’s only head-to-head loss this season was to Division 3 Holland Christian, and NorthPointe’s only head-to-head defeats were to Division 1 Hudsonville, and Hackett. NorthPointe’s Chase Berends and Sam Bradley were the No. 3 doubles champion last season and are 21-2 at No. 1 this fall … Grand Rapids Catholic Central also is intriguing with power in singles including senior Andrew Frost (23-6) at No. 1 and junior Ben English (23-6) at No. 3. English was part of last season’s No. 4 doubles champion.

PHOTO: Okemos' Druv Talluri returns a volley during last season's Division 1 championship match at No. 1 singles. (Click to see more from

Speedy & Skilled, Krueger Again Boosting Niles' Cross Country, Tennis Teams

By Scott Hassinger
Special for

October 3, 2023

NILES – On any autumn weekday afternoon, Aiden Krueger can be found using his legs to carry him across the campus of Niles High School.

Southwest CorridorAfter cross country practice, the Vikings' senior literally runs over to the tennis courts to work out with the boys tennis team.

The fall dual-sport athlete has managed to make a significant impact on both programs during his career at Niles.

In cross country, Krueger is a two-time Lower Peninsula Division 2 Finals qualifier and recently broke a long-standing school record in the 5,000-meter (3.1 mile) race.

In Saturday's Berrien County Meet held at Lake Township Park in Bridgman, Krueger's first-place time of 15:55.5 broke Jeff Ort's 33-year record of 16:05 set in 1992.

Breaking the school record was one of two main goals that Krueger, the Vikings' No. 1 runner, and his head coach Tony Todd and assistant coach Jason Todd set prior to the start of the 2023 season.

"It felt great to take down a school record that's been there for so long. On the day of the Berrien County Meet, my coaches and I talked about how I felt that day. They could tell I was feeling really good, so we went for it," Krueger said. "I felt great the entire race, and my body responded very well. My coaches were at the one and two-mile mark to let me know where I was at. I was able to squeeze out a record time, and the feeling of being able to share that moment with my family, coaches and teammates was unmatched. It's a day that I'll cherish for a very long time."

While Krueger always has shown a natural ability for running, he soon realized he needed to increase his offseason training in order to reach his career goals.

"Aiden is naturally gifted. He broke the eighth-grade two-mile record in cross country, so we knew he was going to be a special runner. What we didn't know at that time was how strong of a runner he was in terms of his mental preparedness. He was a quick study coming into the program as a freshman, but natural ability will only take you so far. There is a lot more that goes into becoming an elite distance runner," Tony Todd said.

Despite running very little over the summer prior to the start of his freshman season, Krueger still managed to post some respectable times in the 17:20s, but he narrowly missed qualifying for the Finals.

Following a couple of years of running track & field for Niles, and with running higher mileage the last three summers, Krueger feels he has prepared himself well enough to attain his ultimate goal of earning all-state (Top 30) at this year's Finals on Saturday, Nov. 4, at Michigan International Speedway.

"Aiden isn't afraid of hard work. He ran 55 miles per week this summer, and up to this point we haven't backed him off from that number very much," said Niles' head coach. "We've been concentrating on consistency, and once the state meet is about a month away we'll start him on more speedwork."

Krueger, a three-time all-Wolverine Conference and all-Regional runner as well, has the opportunity to graduate as one of Niles' most decorated athletes ever with 14 varsity letters.

Well-respected by his teammates, Krueger was selected as one of the Vikings' team captains this fall.

"Aiden is a very positive person and is always encouraging his teammates," said Niles' head coach.

Entering Tuesday's Wolverine Conference tri-meet in Sturgis with the host Trojans and Otsego, Krueger hadn't lost a league race yet and finished first individually in five of Niles' first eight meets. He ran 16:40 or better in five of those meets as well.

As the season progresses and Krueger prepares for this weekend's prestigious Portage Invitational, he knows what he has to do to reach those goals.

"Right now it's real important for me to get out fast and get into a good position so I can figure out when exactly I need to sit back and when I need to move up," Krueger said.

"As we reach the bigger meets like conference and Regionals, there are a lot of good runners. My coaches help me familiarize myself with who is at those races and who I need to go out and run with. I thank God who gave me the ability to run, along with the support of my coaches and family."

Krueger plans to end his competitive running career once he has finished high school. His parents, Robert and Korrie Krueger, own Milano's Pizza in Niles, and his future plans are to help out with the family business or attend trade school.

Krueger didn't play tennis as a freshman, but made an immediate impact as a doubles player the last two years on the varsity. Since cross country is Krueger's priority sport, Niles head boys tennis coach Jill Weber felt it would be more beneficial for the team if he played singles this fall.

Krueger follows through on a forehand shot during a Wolverine Conference match earlier this season."Aiden was real receptive to the change. As coaches, we just thought it would be easier to replace him in singles rather than have a doubles partner be forced to play with someone they weren't familiar with," said Weber, who has coached the Niles boys team the last 18 seasons and the girls squad for 20 years.

Krueger was sporting a record of 13-2 and was undefeated in the Wolverine at No. 2 singles at the end of last week. His only losses came in nonleague matches to Coldwater and Kalamazoo Christian.

"Aiden has an extraordinary work ethic. He works really hard, but at the same time he enjoys it and has fun. He usually only needs two or three games to figure out what he needs to do to win a match," Weber said. "I have so much confidence in him to get the job done."

Weber is amazed at how Krueger juggles his time off the court with school and cross country.

She used Saturday, Sept. 9, as an example of his commitment to both sports.

Krueger started that day competing with the cross country team at the Kalamazoo Loy-Norrix Mini-Meet, a race he won in a then personal-best time of 16:31.4. He then jumped in the car with his parents, who drove him to Mattawan where the Vikings' tennis team was competing in a tournament.

"Mattawan was gracious enough to put Aiden on one of the later courts so he could play all three of his matches once he was finished with his cross country meet," Weber explained.

Krueger won all three of his tennis matches.

"That was a pretty exciting day for Aiden. He just takes it all in stride and isn't a showboat on the court. When he's on the court he has a way of making friends with his opponents and makes good calls and shows good sportsmanship. A lot of people have nothing but good things to say about him," Weber said.

"As far as his ability on the court, Aiden is a very tricky player to figure out and has a lot of weapons. He has a good dropshot, can lob the ball, hit an angle shot or hit an approach shot and draw you out of position."

Krueger is well-respected by his tennis teammates as well.

"Everyone loves Aiden. He likes to joke around, but he truly enjoys every one of his teammates and respects them all equally. He's a good student and had the team over to his house for a team dinner recently," Weber said.

Knowing how important Krueger's senior season of running was to him, Weber spoke with Tony Todd before the year began about his role with the tennis and cross country teams.

"I understood how important running is to Aiden this year. The last thing I want to do is stress a kid out. He's done a nice job for us in tennis, but we're not expecting a great deal out of him. I want him to be able to concentrate on his cross country goals," Weber said.

Krueger's older brother Andrew Krueger played tennis for Niles a few years ago, and that sparked Aiden's interest in the game.

"I participated in some summer tennis camps back when I was in seventh grade. I liked my experience playing doubles the last couple years, but singles is a challenge because you have only yourself to rely on and the court is smaller," Krueger said.

Krueger describes himself as confident on the court, and he considers himself more of baseline player.

"I'm really comfortable on the baseline, and my tennis goals are to just try and finish the year with the best record I can in the conference and help my team do as well as we possibly can," Krueger said.

Scott HassingerScott Hassinger is a contributing sportswriter for Leader Publications and previously served as the sports editor for the Three Rivers Commercial-News from 1994-2022. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Berrien, Cass, St. Joseph and Branch counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Niles’ Aiden Krueger crosses the finish line after winning his race during a home meet this season against Edwardsburg. (Middle) Krueger follows through on a forehand shot during a Wolverine Conference match earlier this season. (Top photo by Scott Novak/Leader Publications. Middle photo by Kelly Sweeney/Leader Publications.)