Preview: Return of Traditional Finals Format Joined by Return of Annual Contenders

By Geoff Kimmerly senior editor

October 14, 2021

What’s old is new again at the Lower Peninsula Boys Tennis Finals, but with plenty of what we’re used to expected this weekend as well.

After a format switch to a head-to-head team championship tournament last year due to COVID-19 precautions, the traditional format has returned with team and individual qualifiers at four sites – Division 1 playing on Thursday and Friday and the other three divisions Friday and Saturday.

Many of the usual favorites are expected to push for championships again. Okemos is the top-ranked team in Division 2 after winning Division 1 a year ago, while Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood is top-ranked and the reigning champion in Division 3. A number of other recent champs should be in the mixes again as well.

See below for a look at many of those contenders, and check out the MHSAA Website for brackets and more (Final rounds will be played at sites listed first below):

LP Division 1 at Kalamazoo College & Western Michigan University

Top-ranked: T-1. Bloomfield Hills, T-1. Troy, 3. Novi.

Bloomfield Hills and Troy have been tied for the top spot since the second set of rankings were posted in mid-September, and there are good stories accompanying both being in contention. Bloomfield Hills won outright or tied for the championship three of four seasons from 2015-18, while Troy’s only top-two finish came to the Black Hawks in 2017. Bloomfield Hills, Troy and Novi all won their Regionals, Novi against the toughest field finishing a point ahead of No. 8 Northville and eight points better than No. 9 Detroit Catholic Central. Bloomfield Hills and Troy did face off Sept. 9, with Troy winning 5-4 playing a fifth doubles flight, and Bloomfield Hills was first and Troy second at a quad Oct. 2.

Bloomfield Hills: The Black Hawks are seeded at seven flights with the top seeds at all four singles – Noah Roslin at No. 1, Daniel Stojanov at No. 2, Pierce Shaya at No. 3 and Aaron Rose at No. 4. Roslin advanced to the No. 1 semifinals last season and is the lone senior in the starting lineup – he has wins over the second and third seeds at his flight this season. Stojanov is one of only three juniors in the starting lineup, so Bloomfield HIlls could make a run at team championships over at least the next two seasons.

Troy: The Colts have found the same success as the Black Hawks but thanks to different strengths, with seven seniors and a junior anchoring the lineup and the top seeds at all four doubles flights – Andrew Wang and Nikhil Tatineni at No. 1, Srihari Ananthalwan and Aryan Gupta at No. 2, Pranav Bellad and Zach Saad at No. 3 and Dhruv Gupta and Rushil Kagithala at No. 4. Three singles flights also are seeded, including Haresh Anand second at No. 4 singles.

Novi: The Wildcats also have seven seeded flights, led by second seeds Cole Anderson at No. 2 singles and Rohit Saripelle and Nikhil Daniel at No. 4 doubles. Novi had four flight champions at its strong Regional and will be making a run at its first team Finals title since sharing with Bloomfield Hills in 2015.

Dimitri Moriarty, Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice: After a solid season at No. 2 singles last fall, Moriarty moved up to No. 1 and is 16-4 and seeded second as a junior.

Anthony Van Oyen, Ann Arbor Skyline: Van Oyen, also a junior, made the No. 1 singles bracket in 2020 as the eighth seed and returns to the Finals this weekend third at No. 1 singles.

LP Division 2 at Hope College and Holland Christian

Top-ranked: 1. Okemos, 2. Mattawan, 3. Detroit U-D Jesuit.

Okemos is back in Division 2 after winning last season’s Division 1 team championship, which combined with Division 2 titles in 2017 and 2018 was the program’s third in four years. Mattawan is seeking its first Finals championship in this sport and was the Division 2 team runner-up a year ago, while Jesuit twice has been runner-up – most recently in 2019 – and also is seeking its first Finals championship. These three in order have been ranked the top three since the Sept. 20 poll.

Okemos: Despite almost an entirely new lineup from last year’s team championship run, Okemos has five flights seeded and all four singles seeded first or second. Ethan Portnoy is seeded second at No. 1 singles after playing No. 2 doubles last season as a freshman, and junior George Fan is the top seed at No. 2 singles and played No. 4 a year ago. Hannah Letzer is the second seed at No. 3, and Suchir Nagisetty is the top seed at No. 4.

Mattawan: The Wildcats are chasing a historic finish with a strong singles lineup featuring three of the team’s four seeded flights. Luke Hodgman at No. 2 and Andrew Williams at No. 4 singles are both third seeded, as is the No. 2 doubles pair of Garrett Cheng and Brady Sullivan.

Detroit U-D Jesuit: Doubles drove the team’s runner-up finish in 2019, and that could be the scenario again this weekend. Five seeded flights total are expected to lead the Cubs into contention, with Sam Owens and Stephen Cibulas the top-seeded pair at No. 4 doubles and Alex Kuplicki and Luke Padilla the second seed at No. 2.

Sammy Yin, Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central: The junior singles standout is seeded first at No. 1 after reaching the semifinals last season, and he has wins over the next two seeded players at his flight.

Connor Stafford, Grosse Pointe South: Stafford, also a junior, carries the third seed at No. 1 into this weekend and has played the top flight all three seasons.

LP Division 3 at Midland Tennis Center and Midland High School

Top-ranked: 1. Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood, 2. Detroit Country Day, 3. Ann Arbor Greenhills.

These three programs have taken turns winning the Division 3 title going back to 2008, with Greenhills entering the mix in 2019 after dominating Division 4 previously. Cranbrook Kingswood won last season’s Division 3 team title, with Greenhills the runner-up, and Greenhills was the 2019 champion with Cranbrook and Country Day tying for second place.

Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood: The Cranes moved into the top spot in the rankings this week after winning a Regional that included No. 6 St. Clair. All eight flights are seeded, including one top seed and five second seeds. No. 3 doubles pair Ryan Michaels and Andrew Fink earned that top spot, while Owen DeMuth at No. 1 singles, Patrick Tiwari at No. 3 and Caden Che at No. 4 are all second-seeded as are No. 2 doubles Jacob Coburn and Sebs Taubman and No. 4 Aryan Tiwari and Praneel Pillarisetty. DeMuth was the No. 1 singles runner-up last season.

Detroit Country Day: The Yellowjackets have finished Finals runners-up five of the last six seasons since concluding a four-year championship run in 2014, and they were Regional runners-up to Greenhills by two points last week. All eight flights are seeded as well, with doubles particularly powerful. No. 2 pair Aiden Khaghany and Clay Hartje and No. 4 Ramzi Nassif and Aayush Dagar are top seeds, and No. 1 Alex Pollak and Petros Kalabat and No. 3 Nick Kalkanis and Charlie Holman are second seeds. Hartje and Khaghany won No. 3 doubles in 2019.

Ann Arbor Greenhills: The Gryphons went from No. 1 to No. 3 in the team rankings despite the Regional win mentioned above, but they’ll no doubt remain in this weekend’s mix with seven seeded flights – including the top seeds at all four singles. Senior Mert Oral is the two-time reigning champion at No. 1 singles, with Rishi Verma slotted No. 2, Chakor Rajendra at No. 3 and Kabir Rajendra at No. 4. Verma won at No. 3 and Chakhor Rajendra at No. 4 in 2019.

Simon Volkema, Grand Rapids Christian: The Eagles senior is the third seed at No. 1 singles after making the semifinals at the top flight last season.

Derek Distelrath, St. Clair: Also a senior, Distelrath is the fourth seed at No. 1 after also making the semifinals in 2020. He was the No. 1 singles runner-up in 2019.

Tanner Warners & Dream Kwon, Grand Rapids Christian: The Eagles have three doubles pairs made up of seniors, and Warners and Kwon are the top seed at No. 1. Warners was part of the No. 1 runner-up with a different partner in 2019.

LP Division 4 at University of Michigan & Ann Arbor Pioneer

Top-ranked: 1. Traverse City St. Francis, 2. Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett, 3. Hudsonville Unity Christian.

These three have been the top three in the rankings all season, and in this order since the second poll was posted. University Liggett is the reigning team champion and has claimed three of the last five Division 4 titles with victories as well in 2016 and 2017. St. Francis is a frequent contender and seeking its first championship, having come in runner-up for the first time in 2018. Unity Christian was the team runner-up a year ago, also its highest Finals finish.

Traverse City St. Francis: A singles lineup full of underclassmen and a doubles lineup packed with seven seniors or juniors will attempt to take the Gladiators the final step for the first time. All eight flights are seeded and six are top seeds: Tristan Bonanni at No. 2 singles, Owen Jackson at No. 3 and Chris Bobrowski at No. 4; and Cody Richards and Ben Schmude at No. 1 doubles, Charlie King and Derek Berta at No. 3 and Tommy Puetz and Eli Schmude at No. 4. Richards was the No. 3 singles champion in 2019, and Schmude was part of the champion No. 1 doubles that fall with a different partner.

Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett: The Knights graduated a four-time No. 1 singles champion, but still have plenty of contenders among eight seeded flights. Sebastian Courtright at No. 2 singles and Gerry Sherer at No. 4 carry second seeds into the weekend; Sherer was the No. 4 runner-up in 2019.

Hudsonville Unity Christian: Five of the team’s six seeded flights are fourth-seeded or higher. Ben Timmermans at No. 4 singles leads the way with a second seed, and Ryan Broek is the fourth seed at No. 1 singles after entering as the fifth seed a year ago.

Andrew Solarewicz, Grand Rapids West Catholic: A senior and individual qualifier, Solarewicz is the top-flight favorite carrying the top seed after finishing runner-up at No. 1 a year ago.

Alberto Gonzalez-Perez, Grand Rapids South Christian: Gonzalez-Perez, a junior, is the top player for No. 7 South Christian and earned the fourth seed at No. 1 singles after claiming a Regional title without losing a set.

PHOTO Ann Arbor Greenhills’ Mert Oral steps into a backhand during last season’s Lower Peninsula Division 3 Team Final. Click for more from High School Sports Scene.

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.)