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.

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.)