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 MHSAA.com “Tournament Home” for brackets and tournament information for all four divisions, and see below for contenders to watch in each.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 HighSchoolSportsScene.com.)
The Midland Dow boys tennis team has one big goal this season:
Win the MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division 2 Finals title.
And the Chargers aren’t shying away from talking about it.
“That’s the goal from the beginning – that’s always the goal,” Dow senior Thomas Ladwein said. “Why would you ever shoot for something less when you know it’s achievable? Shoot for your highest goal possible.”
Dow is coming off a third-place finish at the 2021 Final, and returned nearly all of its lineup for this season.
That’s led to a No. 1 ranking in Division 2 and a 24–0-1 record, a program best for regular-season dual victories.
“Last year was really special. I don’t remember ever having a group of guys that exceeded expectations as much as they did,” Dow coach Terry Schwartzkopf said. “That told me a little something about their character, their psyche and grit. I had an inkling we could be something special (this year). I did not expect the camaraderie, the character, the drive and determination this team has shown all season. I didn’t realize it would be as amazing as it’s been.”
Schwartzkopf knows an amazing tennis team when he sees it. He’s coached Dow to six Finals titles, including five straight from 2009-13. The latest title came in 2016.
Every Dow team since 2008 – outside of 2020 when the team title was decided in a dual format – has finished in the top five at the Finals.
Upholding that tradition could create a lot of pressure for players wearing a Dow uniform, but they don’t see it that way.
“There’s not extra pressure, but there’s definitely a certain expectation where, ‘Oh, it’s Dow High, they’re supposed to be pretty good,’” Ladwein said. “I feel like, up until this year, we haven’t been that strong. But this year, we’re a force to be reckoned with. So maybe there’s more pressure this year. You’re forced to play at your peak every time, but it’s good practice.”
Schwartzkopf also has made sure the program’s past doesn’t weigh on the current players by incorporating it into the present. Several former players who played large roles as Dow built its elite status have come back to help out this current team.
“That’s the program I’ve strived to create, one of players leading players,” Schwartzkopf said. “One where there’s a family atmosphere, and the past, present and future are all connected. … We’re fighting to reclaim the history of those guys that have come back and worked with them.”
It’s not something current players take for granted.
“It’s definitely an inspiration,” sophomore No. 1 singles player Austin King said. “They come to practice with us and give us a lot of tips. They give us little pointers on what we can work on and what to do. They’ve been there and done it, and won a state title. It’s good hearing from them.”
The Chargers also have plenty of personal experience to draw upon as they enter the postseason, which begins with the Regional tournament on Oct. 5.
Nine of the 12 starters played in the 2021 Finals, led by Ladwein and Aaron Li, who were finalists at No. 1 doubles.
King is back at No. 1 singles, while Li has moved to No. 2 singles. Logan Yu (No. 3) and Nimai Patel (No. 4) round out the singles lineup and also have Finals experience.
Ladwein is now teamed with Boaz Qui, who played at No. 2 doubles a year ago. Qui’s former partner, Roofy Elsaadany, is now playing No. 2 doubles with Aiden Tanis, one of three players who did not play in the 2021 Finals.
The No. 3 doubles team of Vishagan Karthikeyan and Shubhan Nagarkar returns intact after advancing to the semifinals a year ago.
At No. 4 doubles are the other newcomers to the lineup, Konnor Janeczko and Dominic Griffin.
That experience, mixed with a schedule that’s featured all but one team in the Division 2 top 10 and several other ranked teams, should have the Chargers prepared for the stretch run. It certainly seems to have paid off to this point.
“I think these guys have like an 80-percent tiebreak record,” Schwartzkopf said. “They get pushed, and for the most part they have this ability to focus and finish.”
Being able to focus and finish now could mean bringing a seventh Finals title back to Dow.
“It would be awesome,” Ladwein said. “To be able to go out my senior year, without ever winning a title the last four years – to speak of it and always come close, it’s always kind of hanging over your head. So, to be able to go in my senior year and win it all, personally, I’d find more joy in accomplishing that.”
Paul Costanzo served as a sportswriter at The Port Huron Times Herald from 2006-15, including three years as lead sportswriter, and prior to that as sports editor at the Hillsdale Daily News from 2005-06. He can be reached at email@example.com with story ideas for Genesee, Lapeer, St. Clair, Sanilac, Huron, Tuscola, Saginaw, Bay, Arenac, Midland and Gladwin counties.
PHOTOS (Top) No. 1 doubles pair Thomas Ladwein, left, and Boaz Qui are pumped up during a Dow match this season. (Middle) No. 3 doubles player Vishagan Karthikeyan returns a volley. (Photos courtesy of the Midland Dow boys tennis program.)